Winter has arrived, but that’s not a reason to forget about your vegetable garden.
I’m grateful for winter’s respite, since it gives me a chance to reflect on the last growing season. It’s a time I enjoy because I actually get to stop, sit and relax. I think about all that grew well and what I would like to grow again. I also think about what didn’t grow well, leaving me space to try something new next year.
As seed catalogues begin pouring through my mailbox, I feel excited to sit with a cup of tea and pour through their multi-coloured pages!
One of my favourite vegetables is beets! I’ve grown many different varieties over the years and I have my favourites.
In this post, I will compare twelve different beet varieties, to give you insight and something to consider when planning your vegetable garden.
Beets, also known by many as beetroot (Beta vulgaris) for their round and tapered roots, have been grown by gardeners for thousands of years. Since it’s discovery, the beet has evolved and adapted. From radish-like in ancient Greece to long, pointy and dark-skinned in 1000 AD, to the many shapes and colours available today.
Historically, the leaves of the beetroot were used for consumption, while the roots were often used medicinally for many ailments. In the mid-1700’s, the German chemist Andreas Margraff discovered that both white and red beetroots contained sucrose. After many years of experimenting, a successful method of sugar extraction was developed, starting the beet sugar industry (Harveson, nd.).
The flavour of beets may be a love/hate relationship for many and the reason is its earthy flavour. Some varieties have a more pronounced earthy flavour than others and this is due to a chemical compound within beets called Geosmin. The higher this compound, the more pronounced the flavour and some people are more sensitive to geosmin than others. As a result, breeding programs are in place to produce beet cultivars with lower levels of geosmin (Nottingham, 2004), making them more palatable for growers and consumers.
A Quick “How to” for Growing Beets:
There are two ways to grow beets. In a previous post, I discussed an easier way to plant beets. In that method, I showed you how easy and beneficial it is to start your seeds in cell trays, four to a cell. By doing this, you are able to plant out your beets in clusters of four and give your seedlings a good head start.
The second method is to sow your beet seeds directly in the garden. Plant your seeds 1/2 an inch deep, spaced 1 to 2 inches apart, in rows 10 inches apart. Then thin your beet seedlings as they grow until all seedlings are 4 inches apart.
I prefer to grow my beets spaced closely together, to achieve the highest yield. In addition, as the leaves develop they shade out the soil and protect it from soil erosion and weed seeds.
Harvest your beetroots at any stage of development, based on personal preference.
For specific planting dates in your hardiness zone, please refer to my Seed Starting Calculator.
List of 12 Beet Varieties:
- Cylindra/Formanova – An heirloom variety originating from Denmark. Beautiful, deep purple-coloured beet with uniform elongated roots. The perfect beet for slicing. Smooth texture and sweet flavour when cooked. Matures early at 55 days. A good choice for a second cropping. Plant the first crop in early spring and a second in early summer. Grows quickly and will be ready for harvest in the early fall.
- Bulls Blood – An open-pollinated, heirloom variety developed in 1840 in the Netherlands. The ‘Bull’s Blood’ strain comes from one of the oldest beet varieties known as the Crapaudine beet. Roots are deep purple in colour and foliage is dark as well. Often picked at 35 days for baby foliage and added to salads. Roots are ready for harvest at 50 to 55 days and are better eaten small. A good choice for a second cropping. Sweet and excellent roasted.
- Detroit Dark Red – An open-pollinated, heirloom variety that was introduced in 1892. Roots are deep purple, with a uniform colour, making it a great choice when seeking out a dark beet variety. This variety is low in geosmin, making it a good choice for people that don’t like a strong earthy beet flavour. Matures early in 55 days and is a good choice for a second cropping. Stores well. Perfect for borscht, soup, roasting, salads and juicing.
- Touchstone Gold – An open-pollinated, yellow-rooted variety, originally improved by the Alf Christianson Seed company. Leaves are solid green and roots are a bright reddish-orange colour on the exterior, with a rich orange-yellow interior. Very sweet flavour and striking on the plate. Delicious roasted, in salads or pureed into a soup. Mature in 75 days.
- Golden/’Burpees Golden’ – An heirloom variety introduced by the Burpee Seed company in the 1940’s. Very sweet flesh and striking golden colour. This variety matures earlier than Touchstone Gold. Ready for harvest in just 55 days, choose this variety if you’re interested in having a second cropping of yellow beets.
- Albino – An heirloom variety that originated from Holland. Produces delicious white sweet roots that won’t stain your hands. Matures early in 50 days. A great choice for a second cropping. This variety has been used for making beet sugar.
- Crapaudine – An heirloom variety that dates back to 1000 AD, during the time of Charlemagne in France. Dark, thick skin removes easily after cooking. When beets are young, their roots taper to a point, however, as they mature, their roots may split and intertwine. Has a deep, earthy flavour. Eating this beet will give you a window into what food once tasted like, over 1000 years ago!
- Boltardy – I came across this beetroot variety when I started following a number of allotment gardeners in the UK. I discovered that it is one of the most popular beetroot varieties in Great Britain, convincing me to grow it in my own garden. ‘Boltardy’ is an heirloom, open-pollinated variety bred to be bolt-resistant. It has deep purple, sweet roots and ringless flesh, giving it a smooth texture and delicate taste. This variety is hardy in cooler weather and matures in 60 days. I started my first set of seeds in the greenhouse, approximately 6 weeks before the final frost date and transplanted them into the garden before the final frost. They grew fairly quickly and were ready for harvest before direct sowing another full bed of beet seeds in early July. This is a fast-growing variety, making it a good option for succession sowing.
- Chiogga Guardsmark – An improved Italian heirloom variety, that originated from Chiogga, Italy. It has pink and white, candy-striped rings inside and red exterior skin. Beautiful when sliced through the cross-section and laid out a plate. Mature in 60 days. May be grown as a second crop. Harvest when roots are smaller for a more tender texture.
- Ruby Queen – An heirloom, open-pollinated beet variety. Has been a favourite of gardener’s since winning the All American Selections award in 1957. Has a deep red, uniform interior colour with no zoning marks. Exterior is round and smooth, with thin tapered roots. Has been popular in the Northeast as an excellent canning choice. Mature in 55 days. A good option for a second cropping.
- Merlin Organic – An organic hybrid variety that consistently produces smooth, round roots, even when intensively planted. Interior flesh is a deep red colour, with no zoning marks. Flavour is consistently sweet, making it a great choice for roasting, juicing or eating raw in salads. The beet greens are disease resistant, so they will maintain their shape even when mature. Mature in 55 days, making it a good choice for succession planting. Harvest at any stage of development and it will be consistently delicious.
- Shiraz Tall Top – An open-pollinated variety that produces tall, tender green leaves. This variety is a favourite of mine because of my love for beet greens. I love their texture and flavour and this variety fills that requirement. Resistant to Rhizoctonia, a disease which leads to root rot and beet green wilt and collapse. If your crops have suffered from this disease in the past, this variety would be a good option. Produces sweet round roots. Mature in 60 days. A good choice for succession planting.
Many of the above mentioned beet varieties mature early. Consider planting several different varieties in one season, by planting the first variety in early spring, then planting the second variety at two week intervals. If you start your beet seeds in cell trays, this will extend your season even further. By so doing, you will have the opportunity to grow and sample a number of different varieties in one growing year.
I hope you will find this list helpful as you make your seed selections. If you have a favourite beet that I didn’t mention above, I would love to hear from you. Please leave me a comment below with the variety name and why you liked it.
- Harveston, R.M. (n.d.) History of Sugarbeets. University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Retrieved from https://cropwatch.unl.edu/history-sugarbeets
- Nottingham, S. 2004. Beetroot. OurWorld. Retrieved September 6, 2007.
Here are the tools that I mentioned in the post.