Gordon Johnson, Extension Vegetable & Fruit Specialist;

Beets (garden beets, beetroot), along with other root crops, have been trendy for the last several years. As with many trends this has been driven by increased interest in beets by chefs and reported health benefits. Red beets are low in calories, contain red pigments (betalains) that are antioxidents and also anti-inflammatory, and have positive benefits in lowering blood pressure. They also contain many essential minerals. We are currently conducting variety trials with beets at our Georgetown research farm and will also be extracting pigments as natural food colorings.

There are also a variety of shapes and colors available with beets including globe, elongated, and tapered shapes and red, white, yellow, and zoned white and red colors. Beet foliage will vary according to type with green and red types. Beet greens are also very nutritious and some red foliage beet types are grown mainly for greens.

Beets are grown for fresh market and for processing (canning and pickling). They are direct seeded from April through early August at a depth of ½ inch with 15 “seeds” per foot of row. The beet seed is really a dried fruit with 1-3 seeds inside. Stand establishment is often a challenge and that is why they are over-seeded. For fresh market, beets are thinned down to 4-6 per foot. Processing beets are planted at stands dependent upon final use. Small whole beets for pickling are planted at higher rates, beets for slicing are planted to achieve lower stands.

Beets require modest nitrogen additions (75-100 lbs/a). Phosphorus and potassium requirements are moderate. Beets also require 1.5-3 lbs./a of boron.

Beets for fresh market are harvested as bunching types or topped roots when roots are 1.5-3” in diameter. Processing beets are usually harvested when root size distribution approaches 25% grade 1, 60% grade 2 and 15% grade 3 paid weight, with about 1% culls. Grade 1 beets are 1-1 5/8 inches, grade 2 are over 1 5/8 to 2 5/8 inches and grade 3 over 2 5/8 to 3 1/2 or 4 inches depending on processor requirements. Beet types for greens are cut and handled similar to spinach or chard. Mechanical diggers can be used to harvest beets.

Store beets at 32°F (0°C) and 98-100% relative humidity. Like other root crops, beets are well adapted to storage. Topped beets stored at 32°F can keep 4-6 months. Cold storage or cool-cellar storage are both suitable, provided the humidity is kept sufficiently high to prevent dehydration. They should be stored in well-ventilated containers such as ventilated bin boxes or slatted crates to help dissipate respiratory heat. Bunched beets and beet greens are much more perishable than topped beets, but they can be stored at 32°F for 10-14 days. A relative humidity of at least 95% is desirable to prevent wilting.

Beet armyworm is the main insect pest and Cercospora and Alternaria leaf spots are the main diseases of beets.

Beets from our trial. From left to right, a tapered red type with green leaves, a globe red type with green leaves, a red type with red leaves suitable for beet greens, a long cylindrical type, a yellow type and a white type.

Classic, deep red beet types.

A white beet type.

A golden beet type.

A red and white zoned type.

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