Now is the time to plant beetroot. They are easy to grow and deliciously sweet when home grown.
Growth habits and planting needs
Chose a sunny position. While beetroot can grow in part shade they do best in full sun.
As beetroot need potassium but not much nitrogen so they should ideally follow the fruit group in the crop rotation system, because by this time in the rotation much of the nitrogen has been removed from the soil. They grow in a pH of 6.2 and 7. Mix 1 handful of wood ash with 1/4 teaspoon of borax and dig into the bed before to provide potassium to the beetroot plants after testing the soil for balance.
To successfully grow beetroot the most important requirement is a deep, friable well drained but moist soil. Preparation of the bed before sowing is of the utmost importance. The soil should be dug over thoroughly so that it is well broken up, so that the tap root of the beetroot can penetrate easily to get moisture and nutrients.
Digging in well rotted compost and animal manure deeply into the soil will keep the deeper layer moist and help root development so that the plants will grow well. The large leaves of the beetroot tops shade the soil and stop evaporation on the surface.
Most beetroot are polyembrionic with more than one seed in each seed pod and so more than one plant develops from each seed. This means that once the plants have germinated and grown a little they must be thinned to one plant. If this is left too late then there is a risk of root injury to the remaining plant when thinned. Because the plant has a wide spreading and deep penetrating root system, competition for moisture and nutrients will affect the quality of the beetroot if they are grown too thickly, and the plants will not have good air circulation around them.
The seeds do best when planted directly into the garden bed after being soaked overnight.
When sowing, make a trench about 1-2 cm deep and then plant the seeds about 10 cm apart, covering them lightly with seed raising mix. Keep moist until they germinate in 10-14 days
The plants should be 5-7 cm tall and have 1-2 set of true leaves when they are thinned. Carefully cut the weaker plants at the soil line with a sharp pair of scissors. This must be done carefully so as not to damage the stem of the remaining plant. This method has the advantage over pulling out the excess seedlings of not disturbing the sensitive roots of the stronger plant. Leave 20-30 cm between each plant. The tender leaves of the thinned beetroot can be saved for a mixed leaf salad.
Keep the plants well watered throughout the growing period. Mulch well around the root to retain the moisture in the soil.
Continue sowing new seeds every two weeks to crop continuously.
The mature beetroot will be ready to harvest in 10-12 weeks. They will naturally push themselves out of the ground exposing the tuber and should be picked before they are 10 cm in diameter by gently loosening them from the soil with a fork.
Cut the leaves to 5 cm before storing in the refrigerator. The leaves can also be steamed and eaten.