Growing beets from seed isn’t difficult and is the best way to ensure a bumper crop of this popular root vegetable. Beets offer a double harvest of sweet earthy roots and nutritious greens, which are ready to eat just two months from seeding. There are two ways for gardeners to plant beet seeds. The first is to direct sow the seeds in the garden and the second is to start the seeds indoors. There are benefits and drawbacks to each technique and below you’ll learn everything you need to know about growing beets from seed.
The benefits of growing beets
Beets are cool season vegetables related to Swiss chard and spinach and grown for their sweet earthy roots. Depending on the variety, the roots may be red, pink, gold, white, or even striped. The taproot is the main reason to grow beets, but don’t forget about the nutritious tops. Beets offer a dual harvest of roots and greens and the tops are delicious in salads, steamed, or sautéed. Beet roots and beet greens are rich in vitamins and minerals, like manganese and folate, and are a good source of fibre. The roots can be pulled for baby beets or left in the ground to mature for long-storage beets. Beet roots are used in so many recipes. I love steaming, roasting, or pickling our homegrown beet harvest.
Growing beets from seed
When you go to plant beet seeds, you’ll notice that they look like wrinkly spheres, but did you know that a beet seed isn’t actually a seed? Botanically it’s a fruit (also called a nutlet) and contains 2 to 4 seeds. This is why beets tend to sprout in clumps and you need to thin the seedlings. You can buy monogerm beet seeds which only have one seed per fruit, but packets of monogerm seeds are generally more expensive.
Once you’ve got your packets of beet seeds it’s time to think about planting. There are two ways to plant beets from seed. The first is to direct sow the seeds in the garden and the second is to start the seeds indoors. There are benefits and drawbacks to each technique. Direct sowing is by far the most popular way to grow beets from seed. This technique is quick and easy and more likely to produce roots that are uniform in size and shape. Plus, you can skip the steps of indoor seed sowing, hardening off, and transplanting. However, if you want an extra-early crop of beets, you may wish to start some beet seeds indoors under grow lights or in a sunny window. Indoor seed sowing results in a harvest that is 2 to 3 weeks ahead of direct sown beet seeds.
How to plant beets from seed outdoors
When the soil has warmed to 50 F (10 C), direct sow beet seeds in a prepared garden bed. This is usually 3 to 4 weeks before the last expected spring frost date. Sow the seeds 1 inch apart and a 1/2 inch deep. Space rows 12 to 16 inches apart to ensure plenty of room for the beets to size up.
You don’t need to plant beets just once, however. For a continual crop of high-quality roots, succession plant fresh seeds every 2 to 3 weeks. Beet seeds can be sown until 8 weeks before the first fall frost date. In my zone 5 garden my last beet seed sowing takes place in early August. Beets are a great choice for an autumn garden as they thrive in the cooler weather of October and November. This late crop of beets can be seeded in a cold frame or a garden bed. If planted in a bed, deep mulch with straw or shredded leaves in late autumn before the ground freezes. That will allow you to continue harvesting beets all winter long.
Starting beet seeds indoors
The general advice when growing root vegetables is to direct sow seeds in the garden. However beets are an exception and can be transplanted. Please note that transplanted beets may not grow as uniform in shape and size as direct sown beet seeds. The benefit of transplanting beet seedlings is that it gives you a 2 to 3 week head start on the homegrown harvest. I like to start a few dozen beet seeds indoors in early spring to give us an extra-early crop of sweet roots.
When growing beets from seed indoors consider timing. It’s best to start the seeds in flats or trays 5 to 6 weeks before you wish to transplant the young plants into the garden. Sow the seeds 1/2 inch deep and 1 inch apart. Place the trays under a grow light or in a sunny window to encourage healthy seedlings. Thin seedling clumps to the strongest plant by snipping the extras. I do this when the seedlings are about 3 inches tall using garden snips. When you transplant beets into the garden space the plants 3 inches apart.
The best site to plant beets
For the highest quality crop of beets, plant in full sun in a loose, loamy soil that is well-draining and stone-free. A soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0 is ideal as beets don’t grow well in acidic soils. I amend my beds with an inch of compost or aged manure before planting. Beets can be prone to nutrient deficiencies like magnesium, calcium or potassium deficiencies. For this reason I also add an organic balanced vegetable fertilizer when I sow beet seeds. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizer products as too much nitrogen promotes healthy leaves at the expense of the roots.
How long do beet seeds take to sprout?
Germination speed depends on soil temperature. If planting beets in early spring when the temperature is around 50 F (10 C), it may take 2 weeks for the seeds to sprout. A mid-summer planting for fall beets usually germinates in 5 to 7 days. When sowing beet seeds indoors, you’ll typically find they take about 5 to 7 days to sprout. Again, germination time depends on temperature so if you’re starting beet seeds under a grow light in a cool basement, it may take a few days longer for the seedlings to emerge.
When and how to thin beets from seed
Once the seedlings are 3 to 4 inches tall, thin them 3 inches apart. I use garden snips to remove extra seedlings, eating the young thinnings as microgreens. They’re delicious straight from the garden or add the thinnings to salads, stir-fries, or sandwiches. The reason I snip the extra seedlings at the soil line and don’t pull them out is that pulling them can disturb or dislodge the remaining plants. If you want jumbo-sized beets for winter storage, thin the plants 5 to 6 inches apart.
Growing tips for beets
The highest quality beet roots form when the plants are given consistent water. Ample moisture also decreases the chance of woody roots. I irrigate with a long-handled watering wand and apply a layer of mulch, typically straw, around my beets as they grow to hold soil moisture. Mulching also reduces weed growth which is beneficial as weeds compete with the plants for water, sunlight, and nutrients. If you don’t mulch your beet crop, stay on top of weeding. I use a garden hoe to remove weeds from my beet bed.
I start harvesting beets as baby beets by removing every second root when they’re 1 to 2 inches across. This leaves room for the remaining plants to size up nicely. Most varieties of beets mature to 3 to 4 inches across.
Want to learn more about growing beets from seeds? Watch this video:
3 common beet problems
Beets are considered easy to grow, but there are a few issues that can pop up. Here are three common beet problems:
1) Healthy tops but small roots – If large, healthy plants have small roots, too much nitrogen is likely to blame. When fertilizing beets, use a product that offers a balance of nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Learn what fertilizer numbers mean in this detailed article.
2) White rings in the roots – There are certain varieties of beets, like Chioggia, which have bulls-eye type rings in the roots. However, if you’re growing a variety that isn’t ringed, you don’t want to find white rings when you slice the roots. This issue arises when beets are exposed to temperature or water extremes as they grow. There’s not much you can do about temperatures, but aim to grow beets from seed at the right time and provide consistent moisture.
3) Black areas in the middle of the roots – Black heart, which forms corky black areas in the middle of the roots, is caused by boron deficiency. Too much boron can be as damaging as too little, so go lightly when applying boron to the soil. The easiest way to add boron is to dissolve one teaspoon of Borax in one gallon of water. This will treat a 10 by 10 foot area.
Other issues to watch out for include pests like leaf miners and flea beetles. Foil pests by practicing crop rotation and covering just-planted beds with a length of row cover or insect netting fabric.
4 of the best beets to grow
I’ve grown dozens of beet varieties in my garden beds and these four varieties are standouts. They’re delicious, reliable, and available from most seed companies.
- Detroit Dark Red (60 days) – This is one of the most popular beet varieties and has become the standard to grow. Detroit Dark Red dates to 1892 and is beloved for its large 3 to 4 inch diameter, dark red roots that have a sweet earthy flavor.
- Ruby Queen (65 days) – Ruby Queen is a red beet variety with large 3 inch diameter wine-red roots and deep green leaves that are delicious steamed or sautéed.
- Touchstone Gold (55 days) – I love the sweet flavor of golden beets and Touchstone Gold is my go-to variety. The orange-red skinned roots grow about 3 inches across and have glowing gold centers.
- Chioggia Beet (55 days) – Chioggia is an Italian heirloom variety with 2 to 3 inch diameter roots that, when sliced, have distinctive pink and white concentric rings. I love the sweet, mild flavor of the roots.
For further reading on growing beets and other root crops, be sure to check out these articles:
- When to harvest beets
- How to grow parsley root
- Growing carrots in containers
- When to harvest carrots for fresh eating or storage
What’s your favorite way to grow beets from seed?