ABOUT THE PLANT
Description: The sugar beet is a white, conical-shaped root with a flat crown. The skin is rough and cream-colored, while the flesh is crisp, firm, and ivory colored. A mature sugar beet root can grow to weigh 2–5 pounds. The root contains a high concentration of sucrose (8–22 percent sucrose by weight) and is grown commercially for sugar production. The leaves are slender, leathery, and edible.
Origin: Beets are believed to have originated in the Mediterranean area The first modern sugar beets came about by selections made in the middle of the 18th century from fodder beets which were being grown in what was then German Silesia, a historical region that is now in southwestern Poland.
Usage: Used in the production of sugar, beet sugar represents about 54% of domestically produced sugar. There is no difference between beet and cane sugar. They are also used to produce molasses and brown sugar. In addition to sugar production, they are used for animal feed.
Interesting facts: In Canada, molasses is combined with non-edible liquids to create strong and stable, de-icing products for major roadways.
HOW TO GROWGeneral requirements: Beet "seeds" are really a cluster holding up to 8 seeds inside, so after germination, seedlings will need to be thinned eventually to 4-6” apart. Beets are a cool-weather crop and do especially well in spring and fall. Beets require full sun (minimum of six hours) and soil that is rich in organic matter and drains well. Add in some bone meal, too, as beets like phosphate. It ensures rapid root growth and good uptake of other nutrients. It's important to keep the soil consistently moist, but not soggy. Remove any rocks or obstacles that would interfere with good root development. A soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0 is best. Ideal temperatures are 50-65ºF, but they will tolerate some hot weather and some freezing as well. Soaking seed overnight aids in germination.
In the garden: Plant in early spring, as soon as soil can be worked, with soil temperatures at least 50ºF. You can plant successive plantings every 2 weeks until midsummer. Sow seeds 1/2 inch deep and 1-2 inches apart in rows 12-18 inches apart. Tamp the soil with the palm of your hand to ensure good soil contact. When plants are 2-4” tall, thin to 4-6” apart using clean scissors to cut away the excess. Don’t throw away the thinnings...eat them! When the plants reach 5 inches or so, apply 2 to 3 inches of light, organic mulch to suppress weeds and improve moisture retention. The mulch will also keep the sun off the tops of the beetroots, so they don’t turn green and tough.
In containers: Use a container that is at least 10 “ deep, and has good drainage. Fill it with well-draining, light soil, or potting soil, and amend it with compost or an all-purpose fertilizer such as 10-10-10. Add in some bone meal, too, as beets like phosphate. Set the container in an area getting at least 6 hours of sun daily. Sow the seeds 1/2" deep and tamp down the soil. When plants are 2-4” tall, thin to 3-4” apart.
Transplanting: Start indoors using 4” peat pots filled with seed starting mix. Sow 2 seeds per pot, 1/2" deep. Keep soil moist, but not soggy. Place in an area that averages 65°F and gets 6 or more hours of light. You may need to use grow lights. After seedlings emerge, thin them to one per container using clean scissors to cut away the excess seedlings. When they have grown 2 or 3 “ tall and when it’s still cool outside but after the danger of any frost has passed you can transplant them. Cut out the bottom of the peat pot. Plant the pot in the garden so that the soil levels remain the same. Space them 4-6" apart.
Beets: Use a garden fork to lift the beets or simply pull them by hand. Brush off excess soil. Do not wash. To store for animal fodder, cut off the greens 2” above the top of the beet, and store the beets in a cool, dark, dry place.
Leaves: After you have cut the leaves from the root, let the greens dry out if you are storing them and using them as fodder.
Seeds: Beets are biennial, which means that they only flower and produce seeds in the second year after sowing. If you live in a cold climate, it is best to store the beets through the winter and replant them in the spring. Beets should be able to survive the winter in milder climates. The following spring, the plants will begin to grow again producing new leaves. Eventually, a flower stalk will form, then flowers, then seeds. This process may take months. When 2/3 of the seeds have turned brown, cut the stalk and move it to a place where the seeds can further dry. To remove the seeds from the stalk, wear gloves and run your hand along it letting the seeds fall into a container. Store the seeds in a dark, dry, cool place.
FAST FACTSCommon name: sugar beet, fodder beet
Latin name: Beta vulgaris
Life cycle: Biennial, but grown as an annual
USDA Zones: 2-12
Seeds per ounce: ~2000