Do you love beets as much as I do?
Some people either love them or hate them. I absolutely love them and could eat them grated raw, boiled or roasted in foil in the oven. I’ve even cooked them in foil over a campfire and WOW the flavour that comes out! I enjoy them pickled and I absolutely love them in soup!
However, I find that beets are not always consistent. I’ve had good years with them, when they produced gorgeous, plump-sized roots. I’ve also had not so good years, where they just wouldn’t fill out or grow.
This year I planned on doing things differently! I wanted to try a technique that would guarantee seed germination and require very little work, after planting in the garden.
In my search for gardening knowledge, I read everything I can. I enjoy reading through early 1900’s texts, as well as current books and research. Although I appreciate documented university research, I also love to explore old world techniques from around the world. I’m especially fond of British gardening practices. I’ve learned quite a lot watching allotment videos from the UK. Many of these techniques originate from generations passed and I appreciate how that experience is tried and true.
One day, I came across a fascinating gardening series by Charles Dowding of the UK. Charles Dowding is an author of a long list of gardening books. He is well known for his ‘No Dig’ gardening philosophy. I share a similar philosophy in my garden, so what he had to say resonated with me. Charles also practices the intensive planting method, which is something that I also follow in my own vegetable garden. Essentially, you plant your vegetables as close together as possible, in order to produce a vegetative cover over the soil, thereby protecting the soil from moisture loss and susceptibility to weeds. Seedlings are planted closely together, without crowding each other.
One of the topics that he covered was beets. Charles likes to start most of his seeds in the greenhouse, in seed trays, then plant them outside when they reach the appropriate size. I tried his technique for planting beets and I have been really impressed with the results, so far.
Anatomy of a Beet Seed
Let’s start with a brief anatomy of the beet seed. A beet seed consists of many seeds jammed into one. Unlike a typical seed that produces one seedling from one seed, a beet seed is a multigerm seed, meaning that multiple seedlings will germinate from one seed.
When planting your beet seeds outside in rows, germination is often uncertain. Some varieties will germinate well, while some of the older heritage varieties may have sporadic germination rates. When planting these varieties, some may germinate, while others may not. This happened to me last year. I planted ‘Crapaudine‘ beets in my garden. This is a very old variety, having been documented in 1000 A.D., during the time of Charlemagne in France. Unfortunately, this variety does not have a high germination rate, even from freshly purchased seeds. Even though I planted seeds thickly, only a few germinated leaving bare patches within the rows.
Other beet varieties, especially hybrids, may have a higher germination rate. However, we never know with seeds, so it’s best to plant thickly then thin out.
However, thinning seedlings after germination is a lot of extra work, which we don’t all have time for. Wouldn’t you rather plant out your germinated seedlings, knowing the exact number that have germinated, almost guaranteeing you a final harvest number?
This is where this beet planting technique fits the bill perfectly!
Here’s What to Do:
- beet seeds
- cell packs and seed trays
- soilless potting mix (i.e. ProMix Bx)
- small dibber or old pencil or pen
- clear plastic domes
- plant tags
- permanent marker
- Water your potting mix to ensure it is thoroughly moist. Soilless medium is very dry and needs to be moistened prior to planting, or it will take too long to initially water it after planting and may disturb your seeds, possibly washing them away.
- Fill your cell packs with potting mix almost to the top of the cell, then gently pack it down by hand or by inserting another tray into your working tray and pushing it down.
- Using a dibber or old pencil/pen, create a small well in the middle of each cell in the tray.
- Drop 4 beet seeds into each cell in the tray.
- Push the soil down, to close each opening and top up with extra potting mix, if necessary.
- Write out a plant tag, labelling what was planted, along with the date.
- Cover your seed tray with a clear plastic dome, to create a greenhouse effect.
What happens next?
Since each seed is a multigerm, more than one seedling will germinate from each seed. When at least 4 or more seedlings have germinated per cell, gently remove or cut the weakest, smallest seedlings from each cell, leaving the strongest 4 seedlings. Keep removing any additional seedlings, in order to only have 4 seedlings per cell. As mentioned above, we over seed in order to guarantee a specific number of germinated seedlings per each individual cell.
When I planted my tray, some cells produced over 6 seedlings. However, several of the cells had three or less seedlings germinate. It’s definitely worth it to over seed and the cost of a seed packet is little compared to lost growing time in the garden.
Transplanting your beet seedlings into the garden?
After your beet seedlings have developed their first true leaves, you may begin planning out where you will transplant your beet seedlings in the garden. For specific outdoor planting dates, please refer to my Outdoor Planting Calculator.
Prepare your garden bed by removing any old foliage from the previous year, along with any weeds. Using one of these, gently comb the surface of the soil, to create an even ground.
Plant out your bundles of four seedlings each, approximately 8 inches apart in all directions.
As your beet seedlings begin to grow and fill out, they won’t be crowding each other. They will fill out in an outward direction. The seedings on the inside won’t bother each other, since they will have plenty of space to expand outwards. Upon harvest, gently remove the beet that reached its desired size, while leaving the rest to continue growing and filling out.
I love this planting technique! It really has taken the guesswork out of planting beets. Simply start them indoors, either under grow lights or in a greenhouse, then plant them out at their appropriate spacing. There won’t be a need for thinning, as the seedlings grow, since you would have already done that while they were still in their cell packs. Not only does this save time and an extra step, it also gives you the exact number of beets to expect during harvest time.
Simply leave them to grow, then harvest as needed. This technique gives you more time in your garden to focus on other plants or to simply relax and enjoy the fruits of your labour. You may even travel and leave your garden to grow, knowing that your beets are doing what they should be.
Please let me know if you try this technique. I would love to hear of your experience.
Good luck and Happy Gardening!
Here are the tools that I mentioned in the post.