SOWING BEETROOT SEED
By David Marks
Beetroot has undergone a huge change over the last 1,000 years. Originally it was used primarily for its leaves which are edible. Over the years its roots started to be used for food but they were long and tapering and not particularly sweet.In the 1800’s beetroot became more popular in Europe because new varieties were bred with far sweeter roots. The British championed preserving beetroots in vinegar which some think is a particularly unappetising way of preserving this delicious vegetable.
SETTING DATES TO YOUR TOWN
WHEN AND HOW TO SOW BEETROOT
The best time to start sowing beetroot outside in the UK is the fourth week of April. One common mistake is to sow a large number of beetroot seeds all at the same time. Try to avoid this, rather sow a small number of seeds every two weeks.
Beetroot seed can be sown any time up to mid July and sowing at two week intervals will give you lots of this crop over a long time.
Many people notice that a few of the seeds might float to the surface of the water, whereas the majority of them will sink to the bottom. Ignore this and use all the seeds.
First choose a site as explained below, then dig it well scattering in a handful of fish, blood and bone fertiliser every square metre / yard. While you are digging remove any stones you come across as well as any weeds. Now rake the surface of the soil so that it is fairly level and the soil is crumbly.
Draw out a groove in the soil which is approximately 2cm (¾in) deep and drop one seed into it every 5cm / 2ins. Gently draw soil over the seeds so that it is level with the surrounding soil. If the soil is at all dry, gently water over the sown seeds.
Place a marker at the head of the row to show what variety you have sown and where the seeds are planted. If you are planting more than one row of beetroot leave about 20cm / 8ins between each row.
When the seedlings emerge keep a very good eye out for birds because they can decimate a crop of beetroot in a matter of a couple of days. See our pest and disease page for more details on how to prevent the birds from eating your crop.
Edible beetroot leaves
GROWING EARLY BEETROOT
There are two common methods for growing an early crop of beetroot, the first being to start them off under cloches. Place the cloche(s) over the area where the seeds are to be sown a couple of weeks before sowing. This will warm up the ground and allow the seeds to germinate about a month earlier than normal.
Sow the seeds in the fourth week of March and leave the cloches in place for six weeks or so. Unlikely though it may be at this time of year, water if the conditions under the cloches are dry.
After a week or so the seedlings should appear and the cloches will, conveniently, provide protection against bird damage. Remove the cloches six weeks after sowing the seed. This method will provide you with beetroot two to three weeks earlier than normal.
The second method to grow early beetroot is to sow the seeds in modules indoors / heated greenhouse. The best time to do this is the second week of April. Ensure they are watered well and the seedlings will emerge in a week’s time.After another two weeks harden the seedlings off and then plant them out after another week. This method will provide you with beetroot two weeks earlier than normal.
BEST POSITION TO GROW BEETROOT
As far as soil type and position go beetroot is probably the most tolerant of all vegetables. It does of course have preferences and these are for a light soil which can hold moisture and a position in full sun – these will bring out their best growing capabilities.A neutral soil (pH 6 to 7) is ideal but they will tolerate slightly alkaline conditions well.
However, even in heavy soil and partial shade they will still deliver a good crop. Beetroot do very well
when grown in containers, see our section on this lower down this page.
Beetroot’s only absolute dislikes are soil which has recently had manure applied to it or a stony soil. Neither will stop them producing a crop but the beetroots produced will very likely be malformed and forked. If you enjoy unusually shaped beetroot give it a try, but if you are looking for perfectly formed beetroot globes then give manure and stones a miss!
GROWING BEETROOT IN CONTAINERS
Beetroot is an excellent crop for growing in containers or raised beds because the light soil is ideal for them and ensures perfectly formed roots.
All the procedures for sowing seed and general care are exactly the same when growing beetroot in containers with a few exceptions. Choose a container which is at least 45cm / 18in wide and make sure it has drainage holes in the bottom.
Place a few stones in the base of the container and fill with standard multi-purpose compost. Sow the seeds as described above. Place the container in a sunny throughout the growing season.
Our standard raised bed feeding and watering program (seethis page) will be fine for growing beetroot. Weed as well to reduce competition for water and nutrients.
STORING BEETROOT SEEDS
When buying beetroot seed bear in mind that if they are kept in cool, dark and dry conditions they can be kept and remain good for five years or more.
If you want to save beetroot seeds you will need to harvest the seed of open pollinated varieties in the second year of their life. Note that beetroot will cross with any nearby plants of the beet family – that includes other beetroot, chard and leaf beet.
This will of course mean that the resultant plants will be very variable in quality. To avoid this beetroot need to be isolated to avoid crosses with other beetroot varieties.
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