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Beets can have a double attraction for quite a few vegetable gardeners: They are easily grown, and basically you can eat the entire plant. Even though they are somewhat tolerant of heat, they will do best in cool climates, and they can also withstand cold weather short of severe freezing. Beets will mature quickly, between 55 to 70 days; they don’t need much room and only require a minimum of care. There is one caution however – they won’t do very well in extremely acid soil.
Beets are a root crop with edible tops. When the plants are young and the leaves are tender, these beet greens are excellent in salads. As the plant grows older, the greens can be cooked as you would spinach. Their roots are even more versatile. They can be cooked fresh from the garden, you can store them in a cool place for winter use, you can make pickled beets or they are good for canning.
To prepare your soil for planting, you need to spade it well, approximately 8 inches in depth, and rake out any stones. If you have acid soil, work in some lime at least a week before planting. Wood ashes, which contain lime and potash, are a good source for reducing acidity. Before you begin to sow, apply a 5-10-5 fertilizer, roughly 1/2 pound for 25 feet of row.
Beets will germinate best and grow faster in cool weather, for this reason it is best to plant the seeds as soon as the ground is workable. In northern areas, where summers remain relatively cool, you can make succession plantings at possibly three-week intervals; this will ensure a continuous crop throughout the season. If your mid-summers are long and hot, your plantings need to be timed well so their maturity date will come before or after the seasonably hot temperatures, exceeding 80 degrees F, occur.
The seeded rows of beets should be spaced at least 14 inches apart, and the furrows should be about 1/2 inch deep. Sow the seeds, which are clusters of three or four seeds to a casing, at 1-inch intervals. The plants will come up in little clumps, and then you should thin them to one plant per inch when they reach about 2 inches tall. After 4 inches, thin down to four to six plants per foot.
For mid-summer plantings, the furrows should be about an inch deep; to reach the moisture in the soil, and then cover the seeds with leaf mold, or some other type of material that won’t form a crust, water needs to run through the material.
Speedy growth and timely harvesting are key factors to tender, juicy beets. Slow growth comes from too little water, too few nutrients, or a weed infestation; this will also cause the roots to be tough and weedy. If fertilization was done before planting, you only need repeat it once again before harvesting. When seedlings are about 3 inches high, scatter some 5-10-5 fertilizer along each side of the row – roughly 5 ounces for every 10 feet. Then cover with a light mulch, straw, sawdust, or lawn clippings, to help conserve moisture and keep the weeds to a minimum. If the weeds persist, remove from each row by hand, and shallowly hoe between the rows so as not to injure the roots of the beets. Don’t forget to water on a regular basis.