Beets grow well in the spring and fall. They are grown for both greens and roots. This guide will tell you when to harvest the greens and the roots for optimal flavor.
Types Of Beets
There are two general types of beets. Sugar beets are grown industrially to be used as cattle feed and processed for sugar. This guide does not deal with these beets. We are discussing beets grown in home gardens to eat.
Varieties of Beets
Growing up, the only time I saw beets was when red beets were served pickled. There are actually many different colors of beets. They can be cooked and eaten fresh or pickled. Common varieties are Chioggia, an heirloom beet that looks like a red and white target when sliced; the heirloom Detroit Dark Red Medium Top, a dark red beet; Avalanche, a white beet; and Burpees Golden, an orange beet. There is even a cylindrical beet, the Cylindra.
When Do I Harvest These Parts of My Beets?
Here is when you should harvest each part of the beet.
When to Harvest Greens
Young beet greens can be harvested starting when they are around four inches tall. As the beets grow crowded, thin them to one every two to three inches. The young greens and roots you pull up can be eaten raw or cooked together. Young greens taste best, but the greens remain edible until time to harvest the root.
When to Harvest Roots
The roots are ready for harvest anywhere from 50-80 days after planting. Beetroots can be harvested early, when they are about 1-1 ½ inches in diameter, and used as baby beets. When beets are about the size of a golf ball, they are ready to eat. If they get much larger than three inches in diameter, the beets get tough and fibrous and do not taste very good.
When to Harvest Seeds
Beets only produce seeds after going through a period of cold. Normally, beets are planted and harvested in the same year. Sometimes if beet seedlings get cold after planting, they will produce a seed stalk prematurely. Normally, beets have to overwinter and then produce a seed stalk in the second year. To save seed for replanting, you have to let a few beets stay in the ground over the winter.
How Do I Harvest Beets?
Beets are not hard to harvest.
You can harvest greens while the root is growing or when you harvest the root. As the greens grow, you can harvest them by cutting the upper third of the greens off with shears. The greens will continue to grow and can be harvested every ten days or so in this way. When you harvest the root, the greens will come with the root.
Harvesting the root can be done in two ways. You can simply pull the root up by grasping the base of the greens and pulling. This works best for smaller beets. You can also carefully use a trowel to dig under the root and lift it free of dirt.
After the seeds are dry, pick them and spread them out on newspaper for a couple of days to dry.
How Do I Store My Beets?
After you have gone through all the trouble to grow the beets, be sure and store them correctly so you can enjoy them.
Cut the greens off the root and store them in a plastic bag with some air holes in it. The greens store for about a week in the refrigerator. Wash just before using.
Leave about an inch of the stem on the roots. Brush the dirt off of them but do not wash them until you are ready to use them. Store in a plastic bag with air holes in it. The roots last two to three weeks in the refrigerator. If you have a root cellar, the roots will last 3-4 months stored in a barrel filled with straw. Beets can also be frozen, pickled, or canned.
Store the seeds in a glass jar or paper envelope. Store them in a cool, dark, dry area until it is time to plant them. They will work best if planted within a year of harvest but will store for four years and maintain an acceptable germination rate.
Some Favorite Recipes for Beets
Beets are healthy vegetables. The greens provide lots of vitamin A, and the roots provide lots of vitamin C. Both contain good fiber, as well. According to the University of Illinois Extension, one cup of sliced, cooked roots contains:
- Calories 31
- Protein 1.5 grams
- Carbohydrate 8.5 grams
- Dietary Fiber 1.5 grams
- Potassium 259 mg
- Phosphorus 32 mg
- Folate 53.2 mcg
- Vitamin A 58.5 IU
Beet greens can be used like spinach. Young greens can be eaten raw in salads. Older greens develop a strong flavor, so they work better when cooked. Here is a common Southern recipe for cooking greens.
- As many greens as you want to eat
- 2 pieces bacon, uncooked
- Wash the greens several times to remove all grit.
- Place in a saucepan and cover with water.
- Chop bacon into small pieces and add to the saucepan.
- Bring water to a boil.
- Reduce water to a simmer, cover, and cook until the bacon is done, about 30 minutes.
- Serve with the liquid and bacon.
Small beets from when the beets are thinned can be sliced thin and eaten raw or stir-fried with the greens. Older roots need to be cooked.
Wash beets well to remove all grit. Place in a saucepan and cover with a lid. Bring water to a boil. Cook until beets are tender, about 30 minutes. Wash beets in cool water immediately. Rub the skins off the beets. Remove the stem and taproot and cut the root into slices or cubes. Use in salads or can.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Wash beets and trim the stems to one inch long.
- Place beets into a shallow bowl.
- Toss with one tablespoon of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
- Arrange beets in a single layer on a baking sheet.
- Place in the oven and roast for 45 minutes or until tender.
- Let the beets cool.
- Rub the skin off the beets and cut them into quarters.
- Cover with your favorite salad dressing.
Other Beet Notes for the Best Harvest
Here are some tips to get the best beet crop in your garden.
- Beets almost always have to be thinned. When the beets are four inches tall, thin them so that there are two or three inches between the beets. Eat the ones you pull out. If the beets are crowded, they will not grow large roots.
- Thirsty beets become woody and unpleasant to eat. Provide even moisture throughout the life of the beet, so it develops the best-tasting root.
- Plant beets every two to three weeks for a constant supply all season.
- Before planting your beets, perform a soil test and fertilize according to the recommendations.
- Keep weeds at bay and help keep your soil moisture stable with a three-inch layer of mulch around the beet plants.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you harvest beet greens before the root?
Yes, you can cut one-third of the length of the greens while they are growing every ten days or so.
How many beets do you get from one plant?
You get one beetroot and multiple greens from each plant.
Why is beet harvesting dangerous?
Beet harvesting in the home garden is not dangerous. You are thinking of sugar beet harvesting, which is done on an industrial scale with machines.
Can you leave beets in the ground too long?
Yes, after beets get larger than three inches, they become fibrous and tough. If the beet sends up a flower stalk, the root and greens are no longer good to eat.
Can you harvest beets after frost?
Yes, beets are often sweeter after a light frost. They should be harvested before a hard freeze, however.
How big should beets be to harvest?
No larger than three inches in diameter.
In conclusion, beet greens can be harvested as soon as they reach about four inches tall by pulling up the plant. The greens can be cut several times while the root is growing and enjoyed. The roots should be harvested when they are about the size of a golf ball for the best flavor. Beets become tough and fibrous when they get larger than three inches in diameter. Store the greens and roots separately. The greens last about a week when stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. The roots last three to four weeks in the refrigerator or three to four months in a root cellar.