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If you’re new to growing beets, you might be on the fence because beets stain, and not everyone is a fan of pickled beetroot. But I hope this article will change your mind. There’s more than one way to enjoy this nutrient-rich root, and there’s more than one way to grow it.
Multi sowing beetroot is a method of increasing yield by growing beets in clumps of four or five. You can achieve this by starting beetroot seedlings inside module trays. Sow 4-6 seeds per module, thin them to four plants when they’re young, and transplant them in the ground about 6-8 inches apart.
As beets grow, they push each other apart instead of stunting each other’s growth, which results in full-size roots. However, more isn’t always better when it comes to multi-sowing, as sowing too many seeds inside one clump will result in leaves and not much of a root at all.
But if you follow the right steps of growing beets, you’ll be able to enjoy this hardy, easy-to-grow vegetable all year long. And I’ll show you exactly how:
Sowing Beetroot Seeds
You can sow beets directly in the ground, but birds love to have a field day and eat the seeds you’ve just planted, or critters in the ground can damage the young plants. Fungus and damping-off disease can affect your seeds even before producing seedlings, resulting in patchy, uneven germination.
In a small garden, uneven germination is a real waste of space, and that’s why planting beetroot from seedling trays is better because it gives you absolute control over spacing and density.
Even if beets are a root crop, you can successfully sow them in modules because they don’t develop a taproot. Instead, they swell at the surface level. Disturbing their thin roots while transplanting them doesn’t translate into smaller plants or irregular growth if you do it right.
Choose your favorite trays for sowing beetroot, preferably on the smaller size. You shouldn’t keep beetroot seedlings in seedling trays for longer than four to six weeks, so a small tray of 60 or 72 cells should do just fine.
Add starting mix or compost (or both) to your trays and firm it in, sow five to six seeds in each module, and keep the trays well watered until the seeds have germinated. Multi sowing beetroot in this way will ensure that you have at least four seedlings in each module.
Beetroot seeds are rather large, so it’s easy to control how many of them you’re sowing. But sometimes beetroot seeds can come in clumps, and that can pose a problem – you’ll get way more seedlings than you need.
Thinning Beetroot Seedlings
Beetroot seedlings will be ready for thinning a couple of weeks after germination. If you skip this step and grow too many plants in one clump, you will get tiny roots and plenty of leaves. Or you’ll have to come back and thin them once they’ve already been transplanted in the ground, which will unnecessarily disturb them.
That’s why thinning beets, while they’re still young, will ensure they get a proper start in the garden.
Go over each module and check that you only have four seedlings. Pull the extra seedlings out or snip them with fine scissors at the base. If you’re pricking the seedlings and don’t want to discard them, you can try transplanting them to a different module and allow them to grow on their own.
Four to five multi-sown beets growing together is the ideal number to keep each other company while at the same time not competing for nutrients, water, or sun.
Multi sowing has been used for generations and has recently been made popular by Charles Dowding. Beetroot works particularly well, even if the clumps are transplanted close together.
I’ve tested this myself time and time again, and it’s true – any clump bigger than four or five beets results in small roots resembling more to radishes than beetroot.
Planting and Caring for Beetroot
When the beetroot seedlings are four to six weeks old and thinned properly, it’s time to move them in the garden. They’ve most likely spent their first month inside a greenhouse, a cold frame, or indoors, in which case you need to harden them off.
Like any seedling grown indoors, beetroot seedlings need to be hardened off. Hardening them off will ease the transplant shock and help them get accustomed to the outside environment much faster. Keep your seedling trays outside or in a cold frame for a couple of hours each day, increasing the number of hours over the span of a week, then plant the seedlings in their final location.
Beetroot seedlings are hardier than we may think, but hard frosts can still damage them. I typically transplant my beetroot outside in mid to late March but keep them under the protection of a fleece row cover for a couple more weeks to offer them protection for the cold and birds.
Keep on top of watering and weeds as the seedlings grow. This is especially important during the first weeks after transplanting, but over time, beets will need less and less water, and the leaves will act as a canopy, suppressing weed growth in between them.
Beets aren’t fussy plants, and they grow in all types of soil, but they do have a preference for well-drained beds and grow to impressive sizes when the soil has been properly amended with compost and lots of organic matter.
Harvesting Multi Sown Beetroot
Gardeners prefer to harvest beets when they’re small, but I haven’t found any difference in taste or texture with bigger beetroot. Beets don’t tend to get woody or change their taste like kohlrabi or radishes as they increase in size, so why not allow them to grow bigger?
This, here, is the largest beetroot I’ve ever harvested. It’s a Detroit Dark Red variety, and it has grown completely organic (albeit in a bed fed with lots of aged cow manure) from early June to late October as part of a second sowing of beets. I’ve found no difference in the texture or taste of this massive root.
The coolest part about this record-size beetroot is the fact that it was growing inside a clump – more reason to try multi-sowing beetroot for yourself.
Harvesting multi-sown beets isn’t a one-and-done event. It’s a process. Most of the time, beets will mature at different rates, leaving you with multiple sizes inside one clump. Choose the largest beetroot and twist it out as you hold the other ones in place. This will allow the remaining beets will continue to mature and grow to a bigger size.
You can enjoy your freshly harvested beets in many ways, as this is a very versatile vegetable. Here are some of my favorite beetroot dishes:
- Beetroot carpaccio using Jamie Oliver’s recipe;
- Roasted beetroot, soaked in olive oil and fresh herbs;
- Grated raw beetroot salad;
- Boiled beetroot added to all kinds of dishes;
- Red Ukrainian borscht;
- Pickled Beetroot;
- Beetroot juice – a superfood you can use inside smoothies, cakes, or on its own;
- Using beets as natural food coloring, especially with pickled quail eggs.
The leaves and stems of beetroot are also edible – use them in stir-fries, stews, salads, and soups in the same way you would use chard. Their earthy taste will make a great addition to any dish.
If you’ve reached the end of the season and you have a bunch of beets to store, the best way to keep them crisp and fresh for months to come is to store them inside bins covered in moist sawdust.
Make sure you place them in layers so that they don’t touch each other as much as possible, and keep the lid on top at all times to trap moisture in.