Beets are known by many names: beetroot, red beet, golden beet, garden beet, or blood turnip. Closely related to chard, the leaves are edible but the plant is harvested primarily for its bulb root.
Beets are thought to have originated in the Mediterranean region; they were eaten by both Greeks and Romans, and eventually found their way to what is now Europe and into China.
Early plants were harvested for their leaves, having only small roots. In Germany in the mid-1500s, a variety with a larger, bulbous root was discovered and considered a rarity. It was called the ‘Roman beet.’ Soon after, yellow varieties were found. Today, the German term mangel-wurzel is still commonly used to describe beets. Modern beets range in color from a deep purple to multiple shades of red, to yellow, gold, and white.
Types & Varieties
Most varieties of beets are found throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico, and are available fresh regionally or year-round in most markets from storage. Fresh beets come with the greens still attached.
There are dozens of varieties that fall roughly into three categories: reds, yellow or golds, and whites. Growth is influenced by both variety and climate. Common varieties include Albino (white), Bulls Blood, Candy Cane, Chioggia, Crosby Egyptian, Detroit, Early Wonder, Golden, and Ruby; the hybrid Red Ace is also popular, as well as the award-winning Perfect Detroit and Ruby Queen.
Another variety of the same family, the sugar beet, has high concentrations of sucrose and is primarily cultivated for commercial sugar production, not for consumption.
Beets grow best in well-drained, sandy soil. Seeds germinate best at 55 to 75°F but do not tolerate higher temperatures.
If exposed to temperatures below 50°F in the first few weeks, they will bolt and produce flowers. Harvest within 80 days, as larger roots get more fibrous. Harvest leaves for eating when 4 to 6 inches high. Harvest roots before frost or freeze.
Beets can be stored at 32°F and from 95 to 100% relative humidity for 2 to 3 months.
Pests & Diseases
Beets are subject to several pests and fungi. Pests include leafminers, which do not impact root yield but can affect leaves; leafhoppers will drain fluid from leaves causing tipburn and yellow discoloration. Flea beetles feed on seedlings, eating holes in the immature root, while cutworms will destroy young plants and can also feed on mature leaves.
Leaf spot causes circular spots. Plants are more susceptible when wet, and later in the growing season. Root rot decays and destroys roots, impacting both quality and yield. Cercospora blight damages foliage of young leaves though not roots. The fungus will remain dormant during the winter; proper plowing for decomposition and crop rotation is recommended
References: Purdue University Extension Service, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, University of Illinois Extension, University of Wisconsin Extension.