A biennial vegetable that is usually harvested only when a couple of months old with a plump, tender, sweet root, the beet (Beta vulgaris) is native to Europe. Beets grow best during the cool temperatures of fall, winter or spring. Planting times vary based on climate; in cold temperate regions beets are planted in early spring with harvest by early summer at the latest. Don't sow beets once the weather feels like summer.
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Beet seeds germinate anytime from 7 to 14 days. Soaking seeds for 30 minutes in water before planting hastens sprouting slightly. Sow seeds only after the soil has warmed to at least 40 degrees F. Fastest and largest amounts of germination occur when the soil is between 55 and 75 degrees. Once soil and air temperatures regularly reach above 80 degrees, germination rates drop significantly, and seeds sitting in warm, moist soil often mold and rot.
Sow beet seeds in a sunny location in the garden in crumbly, fertile soil enriched with organic matter. Soft, loose-textured soils such as sand or loam allow the beet root to grow easily. Compacted clay soils prevent good root growth and shapely formation of a beet root. Incorporating 2 to 3 inches of organic matter such as manure or compost into the top 6 inches of soil before sowing beets is a good practice.
While cool temperatures are best for growing beets, so is proper seed planting depth. Sow beets 1/4 to 1 inch deep, spacing seeds 3 to 4 inches apart. Make any additional rows 12 to 18 inches apart. In lighter sandy soils plant deeper; plant slightly shallower in loam and clay garden soils. Keep the soil evenly moist -- not wet and soggy -- while waiting for seedlings to pop up from the soil. If you sow beet seeds too shallowly, soil temperatures become much warmer and the drier soil conditions can kill the emerging plant embryo.
A common gardener's error with planting beets is sowing the wrong time of year. Beets are a cool-season vegetable and should be planted the same time spinach, lettuce and radishes are sown. Do not plant beets when you plant tomatoes, eggplants, pepper, corn and vining crops -- it's too late and the temperatures are way too warm. Beets need about 40 to 50 days of growth before their roots are large enough to start harvesting. Plant beets in fall about 40 days before the expected first frost date.