I’ve Cracked the Beetroot Code

I have finally cracked the secret code enabling me to grow great beetroot in my veggie patch.  After struggling to grow decent beetroot because of nematodes, fungus and heat I reckon that I have finally nailed it.

As my garden starts to empty out after the Summer harvests, my thoughts begin to turn towards sowing the first batch for the year.  The main crop is sown in Autumn (April) in my climate.  It grows though Winter and in August I can begin to pull up the first ones. They are a bit bigger than a golf ball when I start pulling. By September they are tennis ball size and in October they are as big as baseballs!

I also grow a secondary crop which I sow in Spring, to harvest 3 months later.

Growing them is not hard.  Last year this is how I grew my main crop, and I’ll be doing the same again very soon:

Soil Preparation:

I always choose a bed that has a lot of sun all Winter.  My soil is a sandy loam and in mid-March, I prepare the soil by adding mushroom compost, cow manure and a cup of mixed fertilizer into the soil.  The pH will be adjusted so that it is 6.5.   Mix everything thoroughly to a depth of 30 cm and leave it for a week and then re-dig the soil to ensure that it is as fine as possible. Rake the surface, and it is ready for sowing.

Sowing the seeds:

I target the first week of April for the sowing of the seeds. Using a hoe, I create furrows 2 cm deep and 10 cm wide in rows 40 cm apart.  Throughout the 10 cm wide furrow, I sprinkle the seed evenly aiming to place 1 seed in every square cm.  This may appear to be quite thick, and you would be right, but I can never guarantee the quality of the seed.  Using my hand, I back-fill the furrow ensuring that the seed is covered with 5 to 10 mm of soil.  Using a watering can, make a mixture of 1 teaspoon of soluble Boron per 9 litres of water and soak the freshly sown seeds.  Boron improves the quality and shape of the beets.

Note:  With root crops, I always prefer to plant from seed rather than using seedlings.

Watering:

In my warm climate, I water twice a day for 5 minutes each time, using a fine mist irrigation on a timer. They will only take 10-15 days to emerge. I water them this way every day until the crop is 10 cm tall and the temperatures began to drop in Autumn. I then use drippers just to keep the soil moist – as required.

Thinning the seedlings:

When the seedlings have developed 2 or 3 of their true leaves I pull out the excess plants so that the strongest and healthiest seedlings remain spaced 8-10 cm from their nearest neighbour.   Because the furrows are 10 cm wide, I thin them in a sort of zig-zag pattern. This gives more beetroot per row in the crop.  I usually will have to thin them for a second time a couple of weeks later to remove any late germinating seeds and the odd weed. Don’t throw those seedlings away, you can wash the leaves and eat them in a salad.

Fertiliser:

Over-fertilising beetroot with nitrogen rich fertiliser means you have a high chance of lots of leaves and little beets underneath. So, after the original soil preparation only give them weak brews of liquid fish fertiliser if needed.

Mulching and Weeding:

I prefer the sun to warm the bed throughout Winter and so I don’t mulch my main crop.  I will have to weed the crop more often though, because of  the lack of mulch.  During my second planting, I do use mulch so the soil doesn’t get too hot.

Pests and Disease:

  • Snails and slugs can wipe out your seedlings very quickly if you are not careful.
  • Soil nematodes can be a problem in the warmer months and is the main reason I tend to grow beetroot during the cooler months.  They attack the roots causing a loss of vigor and small malformed beets.
  • I also have had spots on the leaves caused by fungus.  Neem fungicide will keep it under control if you get it early.  Pick off infected leaves first before spraying and throw them in the rubbish bin.

Harvesting:

Depending on the variety you have chosen, beetroot is generally ready to be harvested around 90 days from sowing.   By then they will be golf ball to tennis ball in size.  To harvest, gently hold the tops and lift.  I have sandy soil so this is not hard to do. If you have harder soil – lift with the aid of a fork.  Remove the tops by twisting them off.  Twisting reduces the amount of juice that bleeds from them.  Apparently you can cook the tops like Spinach –  I’m yet to try it but it’s on the ‘must eat’ list.

Varieties:

The best results I have had are with ‘Super King’ and ‘Crimson Globe’.  Both are Yates varieties I grabbed from Bunnings.  I am going to use these two again and also try some other colours this season.   I also am looking to determine which varieties would work best as the season warms up.  I would appreciate any recommendations you might want to share from your experience.

So this is what has worked for me over the past couple of seasons.  I have had a couple of great crops of beetroot.   I had better go and grab some seed quickly before everyone else gets them.

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