“First rule in roadside beet sales, put the most attractive beets on top. The ones that make you pull the car over and go, ‘Wow. I need this beet right now.’ Those are the money beets.”

-Dwight Schrute

In this article, you are going to learn techniques that help you grow those money beets.

We will be learning from experienced market farmers, Curtis Stone author of The Urban Farmer, Pam Dawling, author of Sustainable Market Farming, as well as J.M. Fortier, author of the market gardener.

Together these experts have about a gazillion years of experience, give or take.

Let’s get started and get to growing some high quality, money-making beets!

Benefits of Growing Beets

Beets are a workhorse root crop that thrives in mild weather, stores well, and are popular traditional foods. They can provide high yields for the time invested. 

Root crops store well, so they have the benefit of providing vegetables for sale after the harvest period is over.

CSA farmers can also use these storable crops as flexible filler in their box: more when other crops are in short supply, less in bountiful weeks.

Beets can also provide bunches of edible greens even before broccoli and cabbage are ready in spring. 

Beet Varieties

Beats come in several types, round, top-shaped, and cylindrical. The size and quality of the greens is a factor if you sell bunches of beats with tops, or use the tops for greens.

Cylindrical / Formanova / Forono ones are 6” long, very tender, and easy to peel and slice for pickles or cooling. They stay in the garden for about 55 days.

Ace (50 day, hybrid) and Detroit Dark Red (60 days), are round and are a tender open-pollinated variety.

Detroit Crimson Globe is said to maintain better flavour in hot weather than most others, which can develop off-flavours.

Early Wonder Tall Top (48 Days) is also open-pollinated.

Lutz Green Leaf (70 Days) is a big long-storage variety. It has hit some problems with seed supply in recent years, so make sure you are getting good seeds if you choose to grow these beets.

Bull’s Blood is a specialty variety grown for the dark shiny leaves, to use in winter salad mixes.

Beet leaves grow faster in winter than lettuce does, and this beet has exceptionally dark leaves, which add strong colour to the mix.

Some people claim to like the roots of this one, but after harvesting all winter, the quality of the roots are not good. Maybe they are a keep for yourself root at the end of the season.

Golden beets (Touchstone Gold), white beets, and candy-striped- Chioggia beets are also varieties that exist, however just beware because what they gain in appearance, they lose in flavour and tenderness.

Other varieties include Early Wonders, for early planting and moneta, these are direct-seeded.


Crop Requirements

Any decent soil will grow beets, but the best ones grow in deep, loose, and fertile sandy loams with good moisture-holding capacity.

Beets prefer cool temperatures for the best flavour and appearance. 

Beets need a pH of 6 to 7 but prefer it between 6.5 to 6.8. They require a lot of potassium, which can be supplied by wood ash.

Boron deficiency can show up in beets as internal browning or dark dead tissue, as well as distorted leaf growth. It is most likely to occur in alkaline soil after long hot, dry spells.

Beets can suffer from zoning, which is white rings in the roots if there are acute weather fluctuations. 


Sow beats whenever the soil is between 50°F (10°C) and 95°F (35°C), so long as you can keep the surface damp. 

The frequency of your sowing depends on your market.

For example on Pam Dawlings farm, they sow beets in mid-March and another in early August. This is because the optimum germination temperature range for beets is 50-95°F (10-35°C). They are grown for fresh use, pickling & storage, but not bunch beet sales, so they do not need to do frequent sowings. 

In contrast, Curtis Stone grows a smaller beet and plants them at high density. He transplants his first crop and direct seeds the rest.

He does around four plantings of beets per year. The first is started in a nursery around early March, and the last planting is direct-seeded on the first week of August: that will be a fall/winter crop. He plants enough to last until late November.

On J.M’s farm, they do 6 seedings, which start as transplants. They prefer to transplant because a special feature of the beet crop is that it appears that seeds are actually clusters of three to four smaller seeds fused together.

Because of this, beets are one of the crops that must be thinned to the desired density when direct-seeded. 

For beets, you can pre-soak the seed for a couple of hours, and in summer pre-sprout it, by draining the soaked seed and keeping it in the jar for a couple of days.

Beet seeds ‘drowns’ easily, so don’t soak in water for too long.

Now, you’re ready to hand sow. You can try mixing damp sprouted seed with dry bran or grits to minimize clumping. 

On Pam’s farm, they sow an inch apart in single rows 8 to 10 inches apart.

Curtis plants four rows per bed; Nursery planting 1-3 seeds per cell, transplanted 3” apart.

J.M. prefers intensive spacing at 3 rows 10” apart, spaced every 3 inches.

It is good practice to sow 1/2 inch deep in spring, then deeper in hot summers, but never more than one inch. It is important to get good contact between the soil and the corky seed balls, so tamp or roll the rows after seeding. 

For a continuous supply of greens and baby beets, sow every two weeks until 8 weeks before regular frost usually occurs or about 10 weeks before you expect a heavy freeze. 

Root crops do well on raised beds because the soil stays loose and the roots can easily grow deep.


For early crops in cold climates, start seeds indoors in early spring and transplant at about 5 to 6 weeks of age, after any real cold weather subsides. Plant at 3” apart in rows 12 to 18 inches apart.

beet clusters

Beet Maintenance

Beets come up in clusters, and they will benefit from hoeing, thinning, and weeding.

If you thin in stages, the baby beats can be used as a crop.

For mature beets, allow each a minimum of 3”. Cylindra beets can be left a bit closer and will push themselves up out of the soil as they grow. 

Pests and Diseases

Beet seedlings are susceptible to damping-off in cool wet conditions (Pythium fungus).To minimize the likelihood of this, help the beets germinate as quickly as possible, and cultivate between the rows to keep the soil aerated.

Beets can also suffer from a summer post-emergence fungal disease which can reduce survival. It may be Rhizoctonia root rot, which is a damping-off fungus that affects seedlings in warm soil.

Beets also suffer from Cercospora beticola, a fungus that can render the greens unsaleable, as well as possibly reducing yields of the roots. 

They can also get scab, the disease that potatoes can get which presents as raised rough brown patches. Keeping beets well-watered can reduce the chance of scab.

The spinach leaf miner is the only insect of beets that is known, and leave the roots unaffected.


Harvesting Beets

How you harvest your beets will depend on the scale of your beet farming, the needs of your market, and the equipment you have. 

Pam’s method is to harvest by hand, dig or pull up the beets, and collect them in a cart or wheelbarrow. 

Next, you can take the beets to the shade if you are cutting the tops off for storage, or if your customers prefer topless beets, or using the beet greens in a salad mix. 

As you cut you can put the beets into buckets of water. When a bucket is full you give the beet a quick rub over and put them in clean rinse water.

From there you can remove handfuls and drain them in buckets with holes in the bottom, before transferring to perforated plastic bags for a walk-in cooler (or however you prefer to store them).

Beets should be harvested before a hard frost. 

When trimming the tops, leave a short tuft of leaf stems, to avoid injuring the root, and to preserve the colour when the beets are cooked. 

Alternatively, J.M.’s method is to pick your beets when they are about 2 to 3” in width, especially if that’s what your customers prefer. When bunching, clean off the dead leaves and put 3-5 beets of the same size (so they cook more evenly) per bunch.

If you have a surplus of unsold beets at the market, simply cut off the leaves and put the roots into storage, to be sold later at a lower price to customers who are looking for beets to preserve. 

Curtis’ method when harvesting beets is to thin them by pulling out large ones first, which frees up space for smaller ones to grow bigger by the next week. With this method, one bed may be harvested for three weeks at a time. You can pack a harvested beet into perforated totes loosely, then bunch them for the market as they are washed.

Beets sold to Chefs will have all but two inches of the tops removed, unless otherwise specified, and for the farmer’s market, the tops are left on for a nice display. 


With traditional storage methods, where root crops are buried in sand or ashes in a root cellar, unwashed roots store better than washed ones.

They also keep well in perforated plastic bags under refrigeration and washed roots store as well this way as unwashed ones.

Do not store roots with fruits, such as apples or squash, as ethylene emitted by ripe fruits can turn the roots bitter. 

Young bunched beets can be stored for 10 days at 32°F (0°C) and 95% humidity. Mature beats can be stored for winter for 6 months or more at 32°F (0°C) and 95% humidity. 

If your winters are mild enough and you don’t have voles, you can store beets in the ground until spring, covering the bed with loose organic mulch such as straw, tree leaves, or spoiled hay.

Bottom Line

In my opinion, beets should definitely be apart of your market garden arsenal. They are pretty versatile, from young bunches to beet greens, to older roots. You can sell beets at any stage. The key is figuring out what your customers want and then do that.

I will leave you with some more sage advice from the wise Dwight Shrute:

“Whenever I’m about to do something, I think ‘Would an idiot do that?’ And if they would, I do not do that thing.”

What is your experience with growing beets? Please share in the comments below.

Stay Local,

Kathy & Jon

your friendly neighbourhood growers


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