Why Should I Grow That? The Case for Growing Beets

As I began planning out our garden space, my inquisitive neighbor peeked his head over our border fence to ask about our forthcoming bounty.

“So what is the plan for this year?” he asked, as if preparing to stake his claim to any leftover harvest that may suit his fancy.

I ran through our ambitious list of food and watched his reaction rise and fall. It rose high when the phrase ‘heirloom tomatoes’ left my mouth, and plummeted when I mentioned ‘three types of beets’.

Horrified would be the most accurate way to describe him, “Beets? I’m just not into those.”

And that is the common refrain for Beets – not as hip as Brussel Sprouts, or common as Carrots – they remind most people of food forced on them during childhood that was either too sweet, too vinegary or too tin can flavored.

Alas, people fear what they don’t know, or more importantly what they don’t know what to do with.

We’re ringing the bell for growing Beets and I think we can make a pretty compelling argument for why they are worth some of your precious garden space

More on our Scoring System below

Does Growing Beets Fit The Formula?

As a weekend farmer you are bound by your own constraints. Time, land and effort are all finite principles, evaluating each plant you plan on growing to ensure a positive end result is a step worth taking. These are the three main factors in our formula:

  • How much space does it take up?
  • Is it cost-effective?
  • Do we like to eat it and is it healthy?

I go into much greater detail on our space planning formula here, but suffice it to say every plant we consider growing gets a score from 1-5 on each question listed above (5 is the best) and the closer something scores to 15 the better the chances are seeds meet the ground.

Let’s run through this formula on growing Beets:

growing beetsBeets are spaced, after thinning, approximately every 4 inches. In an 8 foot row, as part of a standard 8×4 raised bed, you could yield upwards of 24 beets.

That may not sound like all that much, but when you consider both the root and leaves of the beet are edible (and tasty as all get out) you are getting double duty out of your seed pack.

Take that Broccoli!

 

growing beets is cost effectiveGrowing 24 beets in an 8 ft row for the cost of a $2 organic seed pack seems like easy math.

That math is even clearer when you realize a 3 pack of organic beets at the grocery store, with the greens intact, is going for about a buck a beet.

 

 

growing beets healthyDarn right they are healthy. Beets have a higher antioxidant ability than onions, celery, spinach, broccoli and carrots and they are very high in folate, a B vitamin which is important for a healthy heart.

Here’s the kicker: one cup of cooked beets…just 75 calories. I’m no calorie counter, but I know that is pretty darn good.

As for the “Do We Eat It” part… we’re still working on that. My kids love picking them from the garden, think they look cool and are fascinated by Beeturia (the technical name for the red color your pee turns when you eat beets) but the trip from plate to mouth is sometimes a struggle with the young-ins.

 

growing beets backyard garden

That’s a pretty solid result from my calculations and well worth finding a space for.

Now you need to know how to grow them, and then what to do with them once you harvest. Keep reading…

Beets Growing Guide

TimingSeed DepthSeed SpacingRow SpacingThinning
Start your Beets 2-4 weeks before the average last frost date for your region, they can handle a little cold. Grow another batch starting in the late summer for Fall Harvest.Plant your seeds at about a 1/2″ depth and expect to see them emerge within 5-15 days depending on soil tempYour 1/2″ holes should be spaced every 4 inches – go ahead and throw 3 seeds in each holeIf you plan on growing multiple rows, make sure they are between 8-12 inches apart. You want to give the beets room to grow medium root balls – they taste bestOnce the greens become 2″ tall you have to separate the weak from the strong. Thin to one every 4″ by cutting out the weaker ones. Don’t pull them, you’ll disrupt the whole under the soil deal. Eat the baby greens they taste awesome.

Companions For Beets

growing beets and cooking with them

Roasted Beet and Feta Salad – sign me up. (Photo Courtesy: WarmVanillaSugar.com)

To maximize yield everything has a place in the garden. While some theories of companion planting are old tales passed down from generations of grandmothers, many reasons are based in solid science. Here are a few of the plants you should grow near Beets, and others you should avoid.

Buddy System

Garlic is a huge asset to Beets, warding off pests that are known lovers of the tasty root veg like root maggots, Japanese beetles and snails. The stinky bulb helps ward off these pests and does double duty by helping the Beets grow strong with improved flavor.

The Cabbage Family plays nice with Beets as well – Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Kale, Broccoli, Cabbage, Kohlrabi – add complimentary nutrients to each other through the soil.

Mint helps keep away flea beetles, a common attacker of Beet greens, and even rodents are repelled by it’s strong scent… but beware, Mint will also take over your garden if you let it. Grown Mint in small containers to keep it confined, or use the leaves as mulch for the same effect.

Give Them Space

Pole Beans: Keep these two apart from one another, they have a negative effect stunting each others growth and eventual harvest.

Beet Recipes That Will Rock Your Senses

This is where we link out to our friends in the food industry who are cooking up some amazing dishes. We aren’t a recipe site, but if I’m going to convince you to grow Beets, you need to see the magic you can create with them:

  • Roasted Beet and Feta Salad – Start with the basics, roasted beets are divine and pair wonderfully with salty feta, arugula and balsamic reduction
  • Authentic Borscht – Beets provide a sweet and earthy combination that make this classic soup worth making over and over again
  • Berry Beet Smoothie – Your instincts may wonder, why include the beets? Just leave the berries! Try it both ways, I think you’ll like it with beets better
  • The Ultimate Veggie Burger – Best Veggie Burger I’ve ever made was from this recipe and Beet are one of the main ingredients
  • Fudgy Dark Chocolate Beet Brownies – Beets for dessert? Don’t knock it these things are the bomb

Final Thoughts:

Couple of last ditch efforts to help you get to know and love Beets like I do…

  1. Beets can be stored for up to three weeks in the refrigerator – the colder temperature helps delay respiration (the stuff that gives your root veggies the wrinkles). Cut off the stems before storing and eat them (see point #2 below) but don’t wash the beets before refrigerating, the exposure to water jump starts spoiling.
  2. Beet greens can be used in similar fashion to Kale, Arugula, Swiss Chard or Spinach- they have a bit of a peppery flavor, but overall milder than arugula. Beet greens are also not as tough as Kale, so for many they are more appetizing than the intestinal scrub brush. Oh, and they are super healthy, high in Vitamins A ,C, K, Potassium, B2 and all the other powerhouse vitamins that greens are known for.
  3. Beets help till your soil naturally, their roots digging deep to aerate and loosen your soil to improve it’s quality without relying on unnatural fertilizers or heavy machinery (or labor). Beet greens, if you don’t eat them, are also high in magnesium which is great to put in your compost pile for next years soil replenishing.
  4. Did I mention they turn your pee red?
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Why Should I Grow That? The Case for Growing Beets
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Why Should I Grow That? The Case for Growing Beets
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We're ringing the bell for growing Beets and I think we can make a pretty compelling argument for why they are worth some of your precious garden space
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