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Beta vulgaris

Beetroot are in the large Amaranthaceae family, formerly called Chenopodiaceae. They are part of the subfamily Betoideae, which includes chard and leaf beet.

Beet plants, in terms of productive capability, are classed in four groups: Leaf Beet, Garden Beet, Fodder Beet and Sugar Beet. In the roots of all these, the sweetness is a common thread, although less so for leaf beet and chard.

Sugar beets account for a third of the world’s sugar production. Fodder beets or mangel-wurzels are energy foods for animals and can also be converted into wine.

Beetroot (Garden Beet) are sweet at all stages and the most flavoursome root for us to eat, whether small or large.

Harvest period

  • Days from seed to first harvest: 70–90

In temperate climates, the season of harvest runs from late spring to early winter. That leaves five or six months with no harvest, yet most of that time is covered by beetroot in store, from the final harvests.

11th July – these beetroot were transplanted only three weeks earlier, replacing some overwintered garlic
At the start of spring’s hungry gap there are still plenty of beetroot from my shed, 14 weeks since we harvested them
12th April – I roasted these lovely roots from my store: Charlotte potatoes (8 months old), beetroot (4 months old) and onions (7 months old)
  • Best climate is temperate conditions, neither freezing nor too hot and dry. In cold climates there is time for one beetroot harvest, from sowing under cover in late spring.

Why grow them

Beetroot has been rediscovered as a great vegetable. In the UK, at least, it was in the background, often eaten as a pickle with a strong vinegar flavour. Now we realise that it makes a wonderful dish when, for example, grated in salads with apples (my favourite), as well as roasted or sautéed among other vegetables at almost any time of year.

There are the famous Borscht soups, so appreciated in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish cuisine. When they are made using sweet, flavoursome, homegrown beetroot, simple food becomes truly exciting. I often think that elaborate recipes are not really needed when you have fully flavoured ingredients, whose only need is a slight embellishment, or mixing with another fully flavoured ingredient!

  • It is a myth that beetroot get woody when large. That may happen from using chemical fertiliser, but I have never experienced it with growing them in no dig, healthy soil.

Suitable for containers/shade?

Beetroot is ideal for growing in pots and grow bags. Especially when you pop in multisown clumps, as I suggest below. (See also Lesson 16 of Course 2 for examples.)

They can grow in shade too.

Conditions for success

Tiny beet seedlings in the garden are vulnerable to pests such as woodlice, slugs and birds. Many gardeners have given up growing beetroot because of this difficulty, as they never get a harvest.

However, with the module sowing that I explain here, you can succeed with your sowings every time. So it’s worth investing in equipment for propagation.

  • When grown in healthy fertile soil, beetroot grows fast and should swell nicely. You have the option to eat it small as baby beetroot, or large for cooking and grating.

Two vegetables in the same family, five weeks since they were planted out; by 20th April multisown beetroot is slower than the spinach, which has already given 630 g/22 oz of tender leaves
April – spring planting; protecting and speeding growth by laying fleece over new beetroot seedlings


There are four colours of beetroot commonly available. In order of popularity, they are red, pink, yellow and white. Flavour-wise I have tried several of these over the years and, as much as I would like to say that one of the unusual colours is my favourite, I still prefer the red ones. They have a greater depth of flavour and more earthiness.

If you like the flavour to be sweeter, but with less body, try yellow or white ones. While Chioggia beets have a strong, earthy and almost metallic flavour, similar to raw beet leaves.

Until 2020, the top variety I recommended was Boltardy. However, its seed/varietal maintenance has slipped in recent years. The result is increasing numbers of misshapen roots with less intense colour, and a higher proportion of thick-stemmed leaves compared to root.

I corresponded with the head of a seed company about this, and he acknowledged that there is less roguing happening in fields of beetroot that are growing through the second spring and summer, to produce flowers followed by seed. He didn’t elaborate on why the roguing is not happening.

My understanding is that it’s because seed companies are investing more in hybrid varieties, which are more profitable for them. Therefore they spend less on traditional methods such as paying farmers to rogue out the misshapen and wrongly coloured roots, in the case of beetroot.

Four colours of beetroot – from the top: Chioggia is pink with stripes, Burpees Golden, white of unknown variety, and the very red Robuschka
Chioggia has these amazing stripes when cut vertically or horizontally, one for each moon change between waxing and waning; occasionally they are for whole months, I am unsure why
A very colourful lunch – globe artichokes, beetroots and cucumber

  • Boltardy’s hybrid equivalent is Pablo F1. They both resist bolting, therefore you can sow a month earlier than other varieties, with more likelihood of beetroot to eat by early summer and less chance of a flowering stem. Should that happen, remove the beetroot immediately, to eat before woodiness happens.
August 2012 – showing just harvested Boltardy beetroot with better-shaped roots than now
Early June – a harvest of beetroot from a seed packet of Boltardy, sown three months earlier
  • Beetroot can be tall as well as round, and Cylindra is a long variety that sits mostly above ground.
  • Cheltenham Green Top is an excellent variety for regions with cold winters because it develops into the soil rather like a carrot, and with fat shoulders; another virtue is its excellent sweetness. The name Green Top comes from its leaves being more green than red, and certainly good for eating like leaf beet. That, by the way, is not the same as true spinach, but a reasonable substitute.
  • Robuschka is a good variety to sow from April to June and it stores well through winter, in a box.
  • Bulls Blood grows leaves of almost crimson colour, excellent when picked small for brightening up salads.
Helped by snow as well as fleece, this beetroot Cheltenham Green Top survived December under the fleece cover
The same Cheltenham Green Top beetroot overwintered well – these were pulled on 3rd April
The crimson red colour, upper right, is Bulls Blood beetroot which we use for mixing with other salad leaves – this is summer solstice 2019

sow & propagate
Transplant - Size, time of year, Spacing, support
container growing
Prune and train plants/thin fruit
Harvest times and method
Potential problems


Through summer, your beetroot bed gradually clears itself with each harvest you take. Always remove any weeds you see while there, and then, after final harvest, the ground is ready for succeeding vegetables.

After final harvest in late autumn or early winter, rake level, then spread around 2.5 cm/1 in of compost on the surface, to protect soil and feed soil life through the winter.

Follow with

Spring plantings of beetroot can be followed with transplants of leeks, autumn or spring cabbage, kale, autumn salads including chicory for radicchio, or you could make a sowing of carrots for an autumn harvest.