Need help with Beets

Westbrook, CT(Zone 6a)

I have had another disappointing season with beets. I direct-planted Detroit Dark Red and Early Wonder in a square foot bed with lots of amended soil for the past 3 years and have gotten mostly leaves, no roots to speak of. The only possible drawback I can think of is that the bed does not receive early morning sun, but it does get sun for 6+ hours in the summer.

In reading sources on the internet I see two distinctly different types planting advice:
A) Sow indoors 4-6 weeks before last frost and, transplant out 12 inches apart at last frost date.
B) Direct sow outside "when frost infrequent", another says "2-3 weeks before last frost".
Which do you recommend?

One source says sow every 2 weeks til August, but another says sow one fall crop in July.

What method has worked for you with beets (I am in zone 6) and what varieties do you recommend for foolproof root crops?

Waddy, KY

This year I planted beets the third week of Feb. The ground was dry and they went in. Beets should be planted as soon as you can work ground in your area. I've had great beets the last two years. I tried for fall beets but got a poor stand. That was because of no water. I think if I want fall beets I'm either going to have to put a drip line and very lightly mulch with grass clippings or chopped straw or put a board down over the row and watch it every day so that I can remove it the second that they sprout.

I've never seeded indoors and transplanted. That sounds like a lot of trouble with very little gain. I usually plant Detroit red and I planted some of the golden beets this year. I did throw a very light scattering of fertilizer on them and they certainly seemed to like that.

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

Hey, Don,

You sure have helped me over the years! Hope I can be of some help, since I just sowed my own beet seeds this past Saturday. I love beet roots, and the beet greens even more!

Now, when you say you amended your soil, did you add a lot of nitrogen? That would give you lots of lush greenery, and very little beet root. I learned that the hard way...Now, I only add bunches of nitrogen where I want lots of leaves!

I've never grown Early Wonders or Detroit Dark Reds before, but that's what I just sowed, along with my beloved Chioggias. I've also had good experience with Bull's Blood beets.

You say your beets get 6+ hours of sun in the summer, but not in the fall/winter. I just planted mine in a Raised Bed (RB) that gets morning sun, but not directly on, so more like bright filtered sun. You might consider a sunnier location, or growing in a container you can move into the sunlight as the light patterns change. A Rubbermaid tub with drainage holes could do nicely.

I amended my garden soil with composted manure and cotton burr compost. I didn't add any other fertilizer yet, but will need to at some point. I'll probably scratch in some bone meal around the plants and water it in, because I actually FORGOT to mix it in before I planted the seeds. Oh, well...

Not sure what else I can offer here. Except, I noticed in your two methods above, they're both referring to growing beets in the springtime. I've only grown beets in the fall/winter. The first time I did, I direct sowed them in the late fall (around November), and they took forever to come up. Then, they grew through our mild winter, and I harvested sometime in the early spring, I think. It was a while ago.

Keep me posted.


SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

What fertilizer did you throw around your beets?

Just fyi, you can put a sheet of burlap over the seeds (I cut up some old bags). It'll do the same as your board (keep the soil moist), only you can water through the burlap without disturbing the seeds!

I just did this with some spinach seeds I scattered at the end of my brassicas bed, and they've popped in 7 days! Took the burlap off yesterday.


Waddy, KY

I just used a little 10-10-10.

I planted some spinach in mini peat pots to set out in a couple low tunnels. They've been sowed 2 weeks now. I've poked around and the seed looks a little swelled and not rotted. I don't remember them taking that long to sprout earlier in the spring. I'm about ready to seed some more.

I can see that the burlap would work well. My problem is that where I was sowing the beets wasn't where I was going to be seeing them daily and wouldn't be there to lift the cover when I needed to.

Hutto, TX(Zone 8b)


Linda has probably identified the culprit. My guess is the amendment may have too much nitrogen. Also, be sure to thin your beets to 3-4" apart once they have emerged. If they are too crowded, then the root development may be inhibited.

I have grown good crops of beets with large roots the past two years, direct sowing in the garden. I fertilized very little, then only with a low number, balanced fertilizer. Some of the beets took longer to reach desired size than advertised, but they did reach a good size eventually. I had a few that I didn't pull that got to be as big as softballs. I would plant as soon as you can work your soil in the spring, and I would not try to transplant. That would be a huge amount of work for a harvest of any size! If your summers in Connecticut aren't to hot, you could make multiple plantings. I have a reference that says the "optimum" soil temp for beet germination is 75 degrees. They will germinate, just more slowly, in soil that is much cooler.


Thumbnail by dreaves Thumbnail by dreaves
SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

That's the kind of haul I'm going after!!!

Those look fantastic. Which variety did you grow.

Hutto, TX(Zone 8b)


That picture is only about 1/3rd of the total crop. Remember, my garden has about 30-foot rows. I planted a double row, about 8 inches apart, so I had 60 feet of beets. I planted Detroit Dark Rex, some Bulls Blood and another that I can't remember.


SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

What's your beet soil like? Did you add any compost or other amendments? Also, when did you sow your seeds? I waited this season since it's still warm here. The temps are finally dropping into the 60s this weekend and all next week. Hoping the soaking I gave the seeds will have em popping in time to coincide with the dip.

I might try to relocate some of the beet thinnings. There won't be that many since I spaced them about 1" apart in the rows. Unlike my brother David, my rows are only 2.5' long!! By the time I l need to thin, I'll have ripped the sweeties from the Rubbermade tub, and can transplant some beets there.

Nothing beats a wish but a try!

Central, TX(Zone 8b)

Don...I pre-soak my beet and chard seeds in warm water overnight before planting in moist soil followed by lightly watering the row. Beets need friable soil in order to expand the root and enough room between it's neighbor to do so. One beet seed is actually a cluster of seeds so thinning early is essential. Light feedings with organic fertilizer and even moisture (no dry, wet, dry swings) keep 'em growing fine for me.

Westbrook, CT(Zone 6a)

Thanks for the advice so far. As to the amendment question, I used a mix of soil, compost, peat and vermiculite in about a 2:2:2:1 ratio (if I'm remembering correctly) in my raised bed, and fertilized lightly with 10-10-10. Ph is somewhat acidic. In other parts of the bed I've grown lettuce, brussels sprouts, broccoli, pak choi, carrots etc. with no problem.

I have seen evidence of chipmonks nibbling at the carrots but have not seen that on the beets.

Linda, I'll take your advice and try planting some in a container next spring. I did try Chioggias one year and got some colorful roots, but very small ones.

I've not tried starting them indoors, and was surprised to see a web site advocating that.

I know about the multiple seed clusters, but have not presoaked them, I'll have to try that next year. I do thin the sprouts, but the trouble is that not very many seeds do sprout so I don't have much to thin. No one else seems to have trouble sprouting beet seeds so I thought I must have been doing something wrong. I'm going to keep trying because my wife really likes beet roots and the leaves are good in salads, too.

This message was edited Oct 23, 2012 7:15 AM

Waddy, KY

My beets are planted in straight garden soil. No amendments. We do put a small amount of manure on it before it's plowed in the spring. This spring I had six rows, each 150 ft. long. I put fabric mat between the rows to help keep weeds down and save on the tilling. We sowed with an Earthway seeder and did a little thinning but basically thinned by pulling the plants that were ready and letting the rest grow. Whatever wasn't sold for market went into pickled beets for market sales.

Hutto, TX(Zone 8b)

Linda-- My soil is called "blackland prairie". My house sits in an area that was formerly prime cotton field. The soil is a bit on the heavy side and silty, but I have added compost a couple of times in the past few years. It is great for growing. The only problem is that it tends to form a crust when drying. I don't grow nearly as much as KyDayLily, but I use an Earthway seeder. My experience is that it seeds pretty heavily.

Don-- Where are you buying your seed? Do you have a feed store or nursery that sells bulk seeds? I've had better luck with bulk seeds than small packets from the seed rack.

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

Thanks, David!

We're on the same page about Don's issue. I was just about to ask where he was getting the seeds. Sounds like that might be a contributor, too. I know lots of people purchase seed in bulk at the feed stores, but, sometimes even those products might be outdated or have problems.

On another note, I watched a fascinating video on YouTube last night. Some northerners planted an entire field of beets and some type of cover crop right before the winter snows. Then they videoed about 50-75 deer walking on that field covered with snow, munching beneath it at the beet greens and the cover crop.

Their whole purpose for planting the crop was to 1) feed the animals in the winter, 2) provide them something to eat OTHER than the stands of corn that were interspersed throughout that same field, but which were totally ignored by the deer, since they were concentrating on the beets!, and 3) to snag a possible "sitting buck" in the process.

Some 'a those hornless bucks walked straight through the corn stands and didn't even stop to munch on cornstalks!

Great decoy!


SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

I checked under the burlap and the beets are up!

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)


Thumbnail by Gymgirl Thumbnail by Gymgirl
Westbrook, CT(Zone 6a)

The seeds were from Burpee (Detroit dark red-from garden store) and Johnny's (Early Wonder-from catalog ).

Vista, CA

My soil was compacted solid and had not been planted for 20 years when i started, last year, but much better now. But still has a crusting problem like David mentions. I solved that by just putting seeds on top of the ground and then sprinkling sand on top, 1/4 to 3/8" deep. Perfect germination. But half of my beetroots grow up above ground level. May grow deepr as the soil gets better.
I highly recommend you dig a Beet Borscht recipe out of Google, and try that. Absolutely delicious, hot or cold.

Giving up on carrots until soil gets much better. Just planted Buckwheat in garden area for cover crop and more organic matter.


(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

Our winters are too cold for late fall planting. I've never tried the late summer sowing that supposedly works in our zone. But what worked for me two years ago was this, according to my journal: On 4/8 I soaked Red Ace beets in hand hot water overnight, 1 seed per cell, plastic cover, no bottom heat, first sprouts 5 days later. I planted out at the end of the month when day temps were 64, night 44. I covered the row with Reemay (a medium weight frost blanket) over hoops until it warmed up more. I used the early thinnings in salads, and kept harvesting all summer.

Last year I planted Early Wonder at the same time, end of April, and and got very little to show for it. It's possible that even though day temps were mid 60's, it was still too cold at night, in the low 30's.

My plan so far for this year is to go back to Red Ace, start inside, and watch both night and day temps before planting out.

Are there any other cold zone gardeners out there?

Deep South Coastal, TX(Zone 10a)

I grow beets here in the winter because it is too hot in the summer. Have you tried the varieties Kestrel and Merlin? How about golden beets such as Touchstone Gold? They don't seem to mind the cold, of course we rarely dip into the thirties, but beets love cool weather here.

Vista, CA

I very seldom, if ever, see references to people measuring the soil temperature before planting, and in just the two years i have been doing that, i have learned a lot and benefited greatly.

I am still learning, but i will not bother putting early or cool weather seeds in the ground before the soil reaches 50 degrees, and will not bother putting either melon seeds or transplants out until the soil reaches 60 degrees. It says on some of the small seed packets the minimum temp to sow the seeds, and I will learn more as i go along.


SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

How are you measuring your soil temp? Regular meat thermometor ?

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

Thanks for that info, Ernie. I started doing that last year, but didn't know or learn enough yet to be sure of what I was doing or form any firm conclusions. I used an 'instant' cooking thermometer, which was recommended somewhere or other.

Vista, CA

PFG. Yes i just use one of the shirt pocket probe type cooking thermometers. I only stick it is the top inch, where the seeds will be. Probably more important on some plants than others, but i lost every cantaloupe transplant but one, at fifty degrees, and all survived at 60 degree soil temp.

I expect to learn a lot more this year.


(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

Here's the link that got me interested in soil temperature last year. I found it too late to be much help then, but will definitely refer to it in the spring.

Westbrook, CT(Zone 6a)

Good point...and a good reference!

Austin, TX

About ten weeks ago I planted a bunch of beets in my SFG (about 36 plants - 9 per square). Then, every week I have been planting 9 or 18 more looking for a good ongoing crop through the winter. For the last two weeks I have been harvesting beets almost every day (ping pong ball size).

I was all excited about my sustained pipeline of beets, then our freeze last night. All the leaves are now laying down and mushy. I did not realize that they were susceptible to a freeze, I thought that they could take it.

I am hoping that they will perk up, but I am not hopeful.

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

Keep going. If you sow more seeds with protection, you'll still get an early spring crop.

First time I attempted beets was seeds sown during Thanksgiving weekend . They took forever to come up, but I had a wonderful harvest. I started some more beet seeds indoors last week, and they are so much further along than the seeds I direct sowed, I wish I had started them all inside!

Our temps dropped to 30 for a couple hours last nigh but I was so intent on getting a hoop over the Broccs and cauliflowers that I couldn't get to the beets before the cold drove me in. And, I didn't even get the hoops up!

I said a prayer and closed the door. The veggies were either gonna make it or not.

Everything was good this morning. Since it's supposed to be colder tomorrow morning, I watered everything really well tonight. Nothing is covered

Austin, TX

I recently learned that even though the freeze killed all of the beet greens, the beets themselves did OK under the ground. I have harvested the few that were big enough and pulled the remaining dinky ones. This year I am going to do the same succession planting of beets until 50 or 60 days before the first average freeze date. Then I am going to plant a lot of beets. When the freeze comes I'll trim off the damaged greens and cover the area with mulch then just harvest the beets all winter long. I hope it works.

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