Beets are trending up (The Vegetable Grower)
(Editor’s note: Gordon Johnson is a vegetable and fruit specialist with the University of Delaware.)
Beets (garden beets, beetroot), along with other root crops, have been trendy for the last several years.
As with many trends this has been driven by increased interest in beets by chefs and reported health benefits.
Red beets are low in calories, contain red pigments (betalains) that are antioxidents, are anti-inflammatory, and have positive benefits in lowering blood pressure.
They also contain many essential minerals.
There are also a variety of shapes and colors available with beets including globe, elongated, and tapered shapes and red, white, yellow, and zoned white and red colors.
Beet foliage will vary according to type with green and red colors. Beet greens are also very nutritious and some red foliage beet types are grown mainly for greens.
Beets are frost tolerant and produce the best commercial quality when grown during cool temperatures (50-65 degrees). The roots can survive temperatures of 10 degrees.
Lighter color and wider zoning occur during rapid growth in warm temperatures.
Beets will form seedstalks if exposed to two or three weeks of temperatures below 50 degrees after several true leaves have formed.
Beets are grown for fresh market and for processing (canning and pickling).
They are direct seeded from April through early August at a depth of a half-inch with 12-15 “seeds” per foot of row.
Between row spacing depends on available equipment: Fifteen inches between rows is common and beets can be planted as close as 4-6 inches between rows.
The beet seed is really a dried fruit with one to three seeds inside.
Stand establishment is often a challenge and that is why they are over-seeded. For fresh market, beets are thinned down to four to six per foot. Processing beets are planted at stands dependent upon final use.
Small whole beets for pickling are planted at higher rates, beets for slicing are planted to achieve lower stands. Beets require modest nitrogen additions (75-100 pounds per acre). Phosphorus and potassium requirements are moderate. Beets have a relatively high boron requirement (1.5-3 pounds per acre of boron).
Beets for fresh market are harvested as bunching types or topped roots when roots are 1.5-3 inches in diameter. Processing beets are usually harvested when root size distribution approaches 25-percent grade 1, 60-percent grade 2 and 15-percent grade 3 paid weight, with about 1 percent culls.
Grade 1 beets are 1 to 5/8 inches, grade 2 are over 1 5/8 to 2 5/8 inches and grade 3 over 2 5/8 to 3 1/2 or 4 inches depending on processor requirements.
Beet types for greens are cut and handled similarly to spinach or chard. Mechanical diggers can be used to harvest beets.
Store beets at 32 degrees and 98-100-percent relative humidity.
Like other root crops, beets are well adapted to storage.
Topped beets stored at 32 degrees can keep four to six months.
Cold storage or cool-cellar storage are both suitable, provided the humidity is kept sufficiently high to prevent dehydration.
They should be stored in well-ventilated containers such as ventilated bin boxes or slatted crates to help dissipate respiratory heat.
Bunched beets and beet greens are much more perishable than topped beets, but they can be stored at 32 degrees for 10-14 days. A relative humidity of at least 95-percent is desirable to prevent wilting.
Beet armyworm is the main insect pest and Cercospora and Alternaria leaf spots are the main diseases of beets.
Weed control can be a challenge as herbicides are limited to Ro-Neet preplant and Spin-Aid and Select post-emergence.
Cultivation will be required.
In 2018 beet variety trials at the University of Delaware, Georgetown, there were 20 beet varieties entered and planted in both a spring and a fall trial.
The spring trial was planted on April 23 and the fall trial was planted on Aug. 10.
Plots were harvested starting July 5 in the spring trial and Nov. 19 in the fall trial.
In the spring trial Kestrel had the highest yield (15.2 tons per acre).
Other varieties with yields above 11 tons per acres were 3x5, 3x11, Red Ace, Red Kite, Bohan, Pablo, Avalanche (white), Red Cloud, Red Atlas, and Bresko.
Yields were higher in the fall trial.
Those varieties in the fall trial with yield greater or equal to 20 tons per acre included Falcon, Red Ace, 3x11, Red Atlas, Boro, 3x5, and Merlin (range from 22.3 to 20.0 tons per acre). Those varieties yielding under 20 tons/a were Bresko, Bohan, Manolo, Pablo, and Moneta.
Bresko, Moneta, and Pablo had the best interior color in the spring; for fall, Kestrel, Moneta, and Red Cloud had the best interior root appearance.
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