By Bobbie Whitehead
Whether raw, pickled or baked, beets stand out as one root vegetable that adds color to a meal and remains a standard in most gardens.
Now that early spring is here, growers and gardeners may want to plant some beets in their gardens.
Seed companies, gardening centers and markets have numerous varieties from which to choose, and since beets do well in cooler and more moderate temperatures, getting started now may enable better harvests since beets may not fair well when the hot temperatures arrive.
The Virginia Cooperative Extension suggests planting beets two weeks before the last frost.
“Beets can be sown successively at about three week intervals to ensure a continuous harvest until late spring, then again in late summer for fall harvest,” according to Dr. Diane Relf, a Virginia Tech horticulture professor, in her ”Beets and Swiss Chard” article.
“Beets are not harmed by spring and fall frosts.”
But Relf wrote that in the summer months the beet roots can get tough when temperatures begin to stay for awhile above 80 F.
Grower Howard Piland of B&H Produce suggests planting them compressed into the ground and planting them thick. Once the beets germinate and sprout, they can be thinned, he said.
Relf in her article suggests that beets be thinned, removing the weaker plants, when their “true leaves” appear. She also suggests thinning the beets out again once the leaves are six inches tall, assuring that the beets are three inches apart.
Two varieties that do well in Virginia include Detroit Dark Red and Ruby Queen, Relf wrote. Piland grows several varieties of beets and said he’s had success with Red Ace, and he said the Detroit Dark Reds are also a good variety.
“I usually take a couple of varieties and mix the seed,” he said. “Usually, I get a good stand that way.”
Janet Spencer, Tidewater Agricultural Research Center commercial vegetable specialist, recommends growers and gardeners have their soil tested since beets can be sensitive to soil deficiencies.
“Some root crops tend to be susceptible to nutrient deficiencies, which can affect their production,” Spencer said.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Nutrition Database, beets provide a good source of vitamin C and folate, which is important for pregnant women to assure their fetuses grow well. Beet greens, on the other hand, are a good source of both Vitamins C and A.