How To Grow An Organic Garden

Growing Organic Beets


Growing beets as food is traceable to the Mediterranean as far back as 2000 B.C.

In the 1800's, agricultural scientists in Germany developed the sugar beet. Growing white-colored sugar beets has become a primary source of white sugar (sucrose), along with sugar cane.

The primary beets grown in gardens for eating are known as "garden" beats. Eastern Europeans are especially fond of growing beets for "borsch, " a beet-based soup. Garden beets are close relatives to Spinach and Chard.


Garden beets are "cold-hardy" plants . Seeds can be planted directly into the garden as early as 4 weeks before your last frost date. Beet varieties generally take 50-55 days to mature.

For a spring crop, plant beets as soon as the soil dries out and you can work it, typically from March to mid-May, depending on your climate. If your springs are wet and cold, it is critical you do not plant if your soil is still holding water. The seeds will not germinate in water-logged soil.

For continuous harvest, make successive planting every two week into early summer or up to soil temperatures of 65°F. Beets grow best in soil temperatures of 60° to 65°F. For a fall harvest, begin planting again 8 weeks before your first expected frost date.

Planting beets consecutively rather than one big crop will provide smaller, more tender beets throughout the season.

Winter crops: If you live in a mild winter area, beets can be planted in the fall with consecutive plantings throughout winter and into spring.

Where to Plant

Planting seeds in full sun will help your beet plants to establish better roots. If you prefer beet greens, planting in partial shade will produce a higher yield of leafy greens. Beets prefer sandy soils rich in organic matter and retains moisture yet drains well enough to prevent standing water.

Preparing the Soil

Like any root crop, you’ll get the best results planting in soil that is root and rock free. Loose soil is critical for proper development of the roots. If all you have is rocky soil, sift the planting area a minimum of  6 “ down.

Deeply till the soil, then smooth the surface in order to prepare a good seed-bed.  If your soil is heavy clay, hard, or alkaline, mix in an inch or so of compost. 

The optimum pH range is between 6 and 6.5.  Beets do not grow well in high acidic soils (a pH lower than 6).

Boron is required for all plant growth and beets use boron inefficiently. Corky black areas in the roots indicate boron deficiency. Boron is less available to the plant in soils with high pH and high organic matter.

Before planting, incorporate up to 2-4 inches of well composted organic matter and work it into the top 6 inches of soil. Use only well-composted manure. Manure that is too fresh can cause forked roots.

Sprinkle and till in a bit of wood ash (out of your woodstove or fire pit), if handy. Its rich supply of potassium enhances root growth.

Seeds and Germination                               

Before planting, soak seeds for 12 hours to stimulate germination. This is especially important in late summer when the weather is hot and precipitation is sparse.

Seeds will germinate in temperatures as low as 41°F (42 days).A soil temperature of 60°F will take approximately 10 days to germinate.

Your seeds should last about 4 years from your initial purchase date.

Getting Started Indoors

Although beets have been started indoors, we do not recommend it for a couple reasons. First, being a cool weather crop, beet seeds can be planted very early in the season and planted over a period of time. An indoor start is not necessary to receive a good harvest. Second, beets are a root crop and root crops do best when their roots are left undisturbed.

planting seeds directly into YOUr garden

Plant your beet seeds to a depth of one half inch, spacing one inch apart. For row planting, plant seeds 3 “ apart, ½ inch deep in rows 12-18” apart. To utilize space, beets can be planted in 2 or more rows or in a wide bed with 3-4” between rows. 

Press the soil down firmly (using the back of a hoe works) to pack the seed in fairly tight. The sandier the soil, the tighter the pack is needed.

Because each beet ‘seed’ is actually a fruit which contains 2-6 true seeds; you will see a cluster of seedlings develop for every seed you plant. When seedlings are around 1” tall, thin clusters to one seedling every 3”. The small, tender leaves can be used in salads.

Young seedlings can be transplanted with care which will provide a second later crop since transplanting will set the plant back about two weeks.

Be careful not to pull up the seedlings next to the one you have chosen to keep. This could potentially disturb the root system or even pull it right out of the ground. Cut off the beet seedlings growing right next to your desired plant at soil level.

One idea to aid germination (especially in heavier soils) is to cover the seeds in the garden with dampened vermiculite, peat moss or some other non-crusting material. This will keep the seed moist and warm, but not inhibit it from breaking through the surface.

Growing Your beets

Temperatures of 60° to 65°F and bright sunny days are ideal for beet plant growth and development.

Once the seedlings are 4-6” tall, thin plants to 4-6” apart. Enough space is needed for the roots to develop properly. When the root has reached 1” in diameter, do a final thinning by harvesting every other plant.

Competition with weeds and uneven watering can make beets stringy and tough. Too much nitrogen will encourage top growth at the expense of root development.

When beets mature in warm weather, they are lighter colored, have less sugar and have more pronounced color zoning in the roots. Best color and flavor develop under cool conditions and bright sun.

Fluctuating weather conditions produce white zone rings in roots. Beets are biennials. Normally, they produce an enlarged root during their first season.

Then after overwintering they produce a flower stalk.

If they experience two to three weeks of temperatures below 45°F after they have formed several true leaves during their first season, a flower stalk may grow prematurely.


Use about 1” of mulch to help maintain even moisture, suppress weeds, and protect from hot spells. Water your plants well before applying mulch. Spread a layer of straw, grass clippings, or shredded leaves around the base of your beet plants.

Mint is also an effective mulch around beets and helps to deter pests.


Weed control is vital in establishment of beets, especially in the early stages. Hand weed, being careful not to disturb or damage beet roots. The root crops grow slowly for the first few weeks after planting and cannot successfully compete with weeds. Frequent, shallow cultivation will control the weeds and keep the surface of the soil loose.

The roots of the root crops are very close to the surface of the soil, so it is important not to cultivate too deeply. Cultivate just deeply enough to cut the weeds off below the surface. Deep cultivation after the weeds are large damages the beet roots.


Consistent watering keeps beets tender and growth continual. If heavy rain is predicted before plants emerge, place a cover over them. This will prevent soil from crusting which can prevent proper growth and slow the harvest.

Supply your plants 1” of water a week. Not enough water will cause the roots to become tough and crack and the plants will bolt to seed.

Companion Planting and Rotation Considerations

Planting beets where beans grew the previous year will benefit the plants. All beans enrich the soil with nitrogen-fixed form the air, improving the conditions for whatever crop you plant after the beans are finished.

Beets do not grow well near walnut trees; garlic improves growth and flavor of beet plants; rather than planting invasive mints around beets use your mint clippings as mulch.

Radishes are a deterrent against cucumber beetles and rust flies, and leaf miners; sage deters unwanted pests and benefits each other in garden; runner or pole beans and beets stunt each other's growth; beets are closely related to Swiss chard and spinach. Avoid following these crops in rotation.

Beets are relatively disease and pest free, and even the problems they do have are relatively easy to manage organically.

When to Harvest

Beets can be harvested at any stage of development, from the thinning to the fully mature stage at about 2 inches in diameter. As the roots get larger they tend to get more fibrous.

Beets must be harvested before the ground freezes in the fall. Hand pull by pushing the root to the side and pulling it out of the ground. Remove as much dirt as possible. Do not wash unless using immediately. Cut or twist off the tops of the beets 1” above the root to prevent staining (or bleeding) during cooking. If you are removing the entire crop at one time, it may be helpful to use a spading fork to loosen the soil next to the plants before pulling them. Harvest your thinnings by cooking up the small beets and using the greens in salads.

For a fall harvest, pull up your beet crop after a hard frost. Beets harvested in fall have stronger colors than spring-planted beets and usually have higher sugar levels. 

Be sure to and store the beets in a box of sand in a cool place like a basement or a root cellar until you are ready to eat them. 

Beet Storage

Beets can be stored in a Ziploc bag in your refrigerator for several weeks. Beets also store well in a root cellar or cool, dark area packed in peat, sand or sawdust with moderate to high humidity for 2-4 months. Cut tops ½ “ from the root when storing.

Harvested beets also may be stored in a pit in the ground covered with enough straw to keep from freezing. Ideal storage temperature for beets is 32°F with 95 percent humidity. Do not allow the roots to freeze.

Beets can be frozen, canned or pickled and dried beets yield fairly good results.

Freezing magnifies imperfections and woodiness in over mature beets. Select deep, uniformly-red, tender, young beets for freezing.

Canning Beets with a diameter of 1 to 2 inches are preferred for whole packs. Avoid canning beets more than 3 inches in diameter as they are often tough and fibrous.

Preventative and Natural Solutions to Common Pests and Problems


Flea Beetles: these small beetles chew small, round holes in cotyledons (first leaves on a plant) and the adult leaves. Flea Beetles can spread disease and ruin your beet crop, particularly when your beets are seedlings.

Prevention: The best organic prevention is floating row covers. Place row covers over your newly planted beet crop so the beetles aren't able to find them. Make sure the covers are sealed 100%, or these small beetles will find a way in to your plants. If you remove the covers to weed around your beets, replace it as soon as you are able.

Prevention: 1) Rotating your crops with crops that aren't susceptible to flea beetles is also advisable. 2) Make sure your soil's nutrients are properly balanced and that your beet plants are getting plenty of water. Flea beetles are particularly devastating to weak plants.

Treatment - "Diatomaceous Earth" (Food Grade): Dusting your plants with DE will help rid your garden of flea beetles, or at least bring them under control.

Rodents - such as rabbits: Rodents will dine on your beet roots if you let them and they're a problem in your area.

Prevention: Bend a piece of poultry netting in a U-shape over your beets and secure the edges to the ground; these pests will go look for easier food.

Maggots: Another pest that may feed on your beet roots is maggots.

Prevention: Harvesting your beets as soon as they're ready will reduce the risk of maggots dining on your beets before you do.

Leaf Miners: Small white maggots that burrow and feed on beet leaves; you can tell where they've been as they leave a lacy trail. While leaf miners don't affect the yield much, they make the leaves unusable.

Prevention: The best organic prevention is floating row covers. Make sure the covers are sealed by placing dirt around the edges to hold the cover down. This will keep adult flies from laying eggs on your beet leaves.

Problem - Forked Roots: If your soil is too rocky, this is a major cause of forked roots. Another cause can be starting beets indoors then transplanting them in your garden, which is another reason we'd recommend against transplanting.

Problem - small roots and lots of plant leaves: Beets planted too close together with no subsequent thinning. Too much nitrogen can also create this condition.

Disease - Leaf Spots: circular spots on leaves created by fungus. Occurs mainly if the leaves remain wet for long periods of time, particularly in fall crops.

Prevention: Use drip irrigation or water early in the day so the plants will dry off by late morning. Also, don't leave beet plants too close together or they'll lack air circulation. In the fall, make sure to dispose of affected leaves and beets.

Problem - "Root Rots:" Fungal disease that decays your beet's roots.

Prevention: Rotate your crops and make sure your soil drains well.

Problem - "Yellows:" leafhoppers carry this disease which is characterized by - you guessed it - your plant leaves turning yellow.

Prevention: Use row covers.

Problem: "Black Heart:" When a beet root has hard, black spots in the flesh, it's known as black heart. Basically it's a boron deficiency. Beets require more boron than most plants, 8.6 oz. per acre.

Prevention: Adding compost to your soil may help. You might also try Organic Garden Miracle™, a liquid organic leaf spray fertilizer with traces of boron in it. It's primary function is to increase a plant's ability to absorb nutrients from the air and soil to increase a plant's sugar. It appears to improve not just plant size and health, we've also noticed an improvement in the flavor of any vegetable we've used it on.