Beta vulgaris

Beets are known as a root crop but more and more people are enjoying the greens as well. Beets are in the same family as Chard. Beet leaves have a bitter taste like chard, but is rich in chlorophyll. Although bitter, the greens have a higher nutritional value than its roots.beet

The commercial cultivation of sugar beets began in the 19th century in France and Belgium. Sugar beets are about 20% sugar while beets or beetroot are usually no more than 10% sugar. Today there are several varieties of commercially grown beets. The most common variety in the United States is the Red Ace.

When choosing beets at market avoid choosing large beets which have a hairy taproot. All those tiny roots (hair) are an indication of age and toughness. Most beets that come to the market will be 1-1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Any larger and they begin to grow a tough, woody center. Smaller beets will be sweeter and more tender. Purchase fresh beets only if the leaf stems are still attached to insure ultimate freshness. Table beets obtain their best color and quality when grown in a cool climate.

In North Carolina, they are best grown as a spring or fall crop. The plants can stand some mild freezing, but the roots must be removed from the ground in the fall before a hard freeze. A dark green color of the beet leaves is an obvious sign of stress. At his point, irrigation should begin immediately. Under-irrigating will cause stress and reduce yield, while over-irrigating near harvest reduces sugar content. Soils -- Beets should be grown on soil that is deep, well-drained, and of good tilth. It is difficult to get a good stand on soils that have a high clay content or those that tend to crust after a light rain. Soil should be tested for fertility and nematodes several months before planting. For early spring planting, choose a well-drained, sandy loam which will warm up quickly. Heavier soils can be used for later plantings.

Fertilizer and pH -- The optimum soil pH for beets is 6.0 to 6.8, but pH up to 7.6 can be tolerated. Lime should be applied according to soil test recommendations at least 30 days before planting. Fertilizers also should be applied according to test recommendations. If no test was taken, an application of 500 to 600 lb of 10-20-20 fertilizer is recommended. Fertilizers should be broadcast at least 7 days before planting. If a band application is preferred, bands should be 5 inches deep and 3 inches to the side of the seed row or between rows on a bed. Depending on growth rate and amount of rainfall, 1 to 3 sidedressings may be necessary. Apply 20 to 30 lb of nitrogen per acre at each application.

Beets will develop internal black spot if soil boron is not adequate. One lb of boron (or 10 lb of borax) per acre should be included in the initial fertilizer application. If boron was not included in preplant fertilizer, apply 2 to 4 lb of Solubor or 2 to 4 qt of N-Boron.

Varieties -- Ruby Queen and Redpack are the most commonly grown varieties. Both varieties are good for processing as well as fresh market.
Ruby Queen
produces a smooth, round root with a small tap root and good color.

Redpack has smooth, globe-shaped, dark-red roots with short, strong red-tinged, dark-green tops.

Red Cloud has smooth, globe-shaped, dark-red roots, durable tap, and excellent color and high sugar content. Seeding -- Beet seeds germinate best at soil temperatures of 500F to 850F but will germinate between 400F and 950F. Early plantings can be made 4 to 6 weeks before the average last spring frost. Fall plantings should go in 8 to 10 weeks before the first expected frost. A firm seed bed should be prepared. Raised beds are best for water management and will warm up faster in the spring. A spreader shoe should be used to seed a band about 2 inches wide. Seeds should be covered with 1/2 to 3/4 inches of soil.

Recommended spacings are 12 to 24 inches between rows and 2 to 4 inches between plants in the row. Maximum yields can be obtained with high density plantings. Rows should be 12 inches apart. Seed 15 to 18 seeds per ft and thin plants to 6 per ft for fresh market or 4 per ft for processing. If planting on beds, beds should be 5 to 6 ft on center, with 48-inch width and 3 rows 12 inches apart. Six to 10 lb of seed per acre will be needed for normal rates and up to 25 lb for high-density planting. Precision seeders can reduce seed and thinning cost. If a precision seeder is used, reduce seed estimates accordingly information from NCSU extension service.