Many people have an aversion to beetroot because the only way they have ever tasted it is boiled and drowned in vinegar! If this is your experience, it deserves a second chance for it is a fine root crop, that is (a) easy to grow, (b) can be eaten all year round since it stores well , (c) is incredibly good for you and (d) has multiple uses – boil it, bake it, grate it in to salads, make chutneys, wine and even cakes (beetroot brownies, yum). Try baking young, small (golf-ball sized) beets in the oven wrapped in tinfoil – they are a revelation.
Beetroot likes a deep, sandy soil, manured the previous winter. Apply organic fertiliser about a week before sowing. Germination is in about 10 days and you will have roots to eat in about 3 months. Sow either in module trays (for careful transplanting about a month after sowing) or in situ outside about 1 inch deep, 4 inches apart in rows about 12 inches apart. Traditionally two seeds are sown at each point and then one is taken away when the seedlings are 1 inch high. Bear in mind that a beetroot seed is actually a “cluster” of up to five seeds, so you may need to thin out if they all germinate. Sow every two weeks from April until July (for a continuous supply of young beets) although you can start even earlier (March) in a greenhouse or polytunnel. Sow another batch in July which will be ready to lift in October for winter storage.
Keep the ground weed free by hoeing carefully. Young beets are sensitive to cold spells which is why we generally wait until April to sow. Protect young seedlings with fleece if required. Overwatering encourages leave growth at the expense of root formation.
Start to harvest when they are golf ball size – leaving every second one behind to fully mature. Do not let beets grow larger than a tennis ball. You can also harvest the leaves for salads but not too many as the root needs the leaves too. Lift July-sown crop in October and store in sand or peat – will keep for 3-4 months. Twist off leaves a few centimetres above root before storing. Handle carefully – they will “bleed” if damaged.
Beetroot is generally trouble free but black bean aphid and mangold fly can occasionally be troublesome.