Beets are one of the most nutritious vegetables, rich in vitamins and tasty natural sugars. Growing your own beets can sometimes be a challenge, however.
When it comes time to pick your beets, you may not know what to look for. So, in this article, I’ll share how to know exactly when to harvest beets for the best yield and flavor.
Why are my beets flowering?
Commonly grown for their root, beets can be somewhat tricky plants to grow. They prefer cool weather, even watering, and slightly acidic soil to thrive.
When a beet plant becomes stressed, it may begin to enter its reproductive phase, also known as bolting. This is when the plants shoot up new frilly strands, full of small flowers.
High heat is one common cause for beets flowering. Again, beetroot is a cool weather crop, meaning it will perform best in early spring or later in the fall when soil temperatures are lower. In mid-summer, your beet plants are more likely to bolt.
Poor soil nutrition can also cause stress your beets, triggering them to flower. Make sure your soil drains freely and is fertile. One way to improve both of these conditions is to add a thin layer of compost to your garden beds in early spring before planting.
When to harvest beets
While it is important to pick beets within an ideal window, it is equally important to plant seeds at the correct time. Beets grow best when direct-sown in early spring, as soon as the soil can be worked.
Assuming that the weather and soil conditions were ideal, beets can be harvested about 50-60 days after planting seeds. This makes beets one of the quicker crops you can grow from seed.
Check your seed packet or variety of beet to see the ‘days to maturity.’ This is the average number of days for your crop to be ready to harvest.
- Days since planting. Most beets are ready for harvest 50-60 days after planting.
- Look at the base of the plant. Pull back the foliage of your beets to look at the crown of the root. It should be surfacing above the soil slightly. You can usually gauge from the top of the root’s size how large the underlying beetroot is. Only harvest when the beet is at least the size of a golfball, and no larger than a baseball.
While these are the two methods we use to pick our beets at the right time, we still sometimes end up with imperfect beets. So, what happens when you pick too early or too late?
Can you pick beets too early?
If you harvest your beets too soon, the root is still edible. However, you will be sacrificing what could have been a larger harvest had you allowed them more time to mature in the soil.
Are overgrown beets edible?
On the flip side, beets that are left too long, become woody and hard to eat. If you suspect your beets were overgrown, slice them in half to see if the center is woody. Be careful not to bite directly into a large beet, as the center can become very hard and unappetizing!
Can I leave beets in the ground over winter?
While beets are cool weather crops, they aren’t really meant to be left in the ground over a harsh winter. The plants may survive, but they won’t thrive, and the resulting root may be hard and woody.
Are beetroot leaves edible?
While most gardeners grow beets for their root, the leaves are edible (and delicious)! The flavor is similar to a fresh leaf lettuce or spinach, and the greens are full of nutritional value.
So, if you end up with some plants that are overgrown or have begun flowering, you can still harvest and enjoy the fresh greens. In fact, the flavor of the greens is often said to improve as the plant begin flowering.
Why are my beets so small?
One of the great disappointments of gardening is pulling up a root vegetable, full of hope, only to find a puny vegetable hiding beneath. This often happens with carrots, parsnips, radishes, and beets.
The main cause of small beets is usually to do with either light exposure or soil fertility.
Tips for BIGGER beets:
- Plant in full-sun. Beets need plenty of sunlight to grow their best. More sun means larger beets and more flavorful roots.
- Feed with phosphorus-rich fertilizer. If your beets are consistently small despite being in full-sun, you may want to fertilize with a higher phosphorus fertilizer. Beets and other root veggies use more phosphorus than other primary nutrients, so prioritize this element.
- Test soil for pH. On top of soil fertility, beets also grow best with a soil pH between 6.0-7.0 (or slightly acidic). A soil test can determine your garden soil’s pH along with macro and micro nutrient levels.
- Thin seedlings. After your beet seeds sprout, thin the seedlings to one plant every 3″. This allows adequate room for each root to expand and grow to its full potential.
- Avoid very hot weather. Hot weather can trigger your beet plants to begin flowering. This transition redirect’s the plant’s energy away from forming a large root.
- Be patient! Beets need 6-8 full weeks of growth before harvesting. If you pick too soon, the beets will be smaller than they could have been.
Succession planting beets
Beets and other early root vegetables (like radishes) are great candidates for succession planting. This is the practice of planting rounds of seeds every week or two.
By planting more seeds each week, you will ensure that you have regular yields when harvest time comes around. So, instead of having all of your beets all at once, your harvests will be spread out over the course of the season.
Can I plant beets in the fall?
In addition to early spring planting beets, you can also plant beets for a fall harvest. Begin sowing beet seeds around 12 weeks before your first fall frost, and succession sow until about 8 weeks before the frost hits. Most beets can handle some frost, so your harvests can last well into the cold months!
I hope this article helps you know when to harvest beets. I love enjoying beets fresh, in a juice, steamed, and even pickled. Happy harvesting!