Beets are extremely popular for home vegetable patches. This super sweet veggie is simple to grow and can be eaten fresh or pickled for year round enjoyment. Beetroots are even used as an organic dye and come in a few different colors, mainly red, gold and deep purple. Globe beets and long beets are the two standard varieties. Grown in mostly the same fashion, the long beetroot takes more time to mature and requires a wider spacing between plants. Best Soil for Growing Beets Beets are unusual in that they like well drained soil, but will not thrive when composted manure is mixed in. The best thing for preparation is to turn over the beet patch in the fall and remove any stones. Try to make heavy soil lighter by turning it over or tilling it in the early springtime as well. Beets are also happiest in cooler temperatures, so place them in partial shade to full sun. The pH level should land between 6.5 and 7.0 and can be adjusted by adding lime. When to Plant Beets Beets are best when sown directly into the garden about one to two weeks before the last frost appears. It is possible to start them ahead of time in seed pots, but many gardeners have a better crop by skipping this step and heading right to the garden. How to Plant Beets Soak your beetroot seeds in water for three to four hours before planting. They actually come in seed clusters that contain between one and four seeds each. Sow your seed clusters in rows about 12 inches apart with a 2” spacing between the seeds. Dig a trench 1” deep and sow the clusters along the bottom. Cover lightly with soil and keep the soil moist until the seedlings break through. Proper Care of Beets You will need to thin the rows out right away, choosing the strongest from each cluster. From there, as the seedlings grow, you can thin them further to the optimum spacing. Globe varieties need about 4 inches between and long varieties will thrive with 6 inches spacing. Keep the soil moist throughout the season with even, gentle watering. Mulch the beds with light wood chips or straw to keep the weeds out and the moisture in. When to Harvest Beets Globe beets are the first to reach maturity. As soon as they reach 1 ½” in diameter, globe beetroots can be harvested. Once they grow to a diameter of 3” you will need to harvest them or they’ll quickly become tough and tasteless. Long beets take more time to mature and show their readiness by reaching a certain length. Don’t let them grow beyond 10 inches before harvesting. How to Harvest Beets Beets are roots and need to be gently dug out of the ground to harvest. The trick is to inflict as little damage as possible to the roots, making them easier to store and keeping the moisture and flavor inside the vegetable. Use a trowel or small shovel to dig under the root, taking care not to get too close. Lift gently and shake the root out of the soil in the trowel. Watering the garden ahead of time will loosen the soil and make it easier to harvest. Beets can be pickled for year round enjoyment, but can also be stored in a cool, dry place such as a sand-filled box. Also, the leaves of beets can be picked and eaten in a salad much like fresh spinach. Common Beet Pests and Diseases Beets are relatively unbothered by pests, although there are a select few that go after their sweet taste. Leaf miners may attack and can be fought off with herbicides or insecticidal soap. If you see an early infestation, cut the damaged leaf off completely and burn it. Springtails may also appear - very tiny brown bugs that cause the plant to grow in a stunted fashion. Water evenly and avoid puddles as springtails thrive in dark and damp conditions. Bacterial infections like scab will impact the appearance of your beets, even if they don’t affect the taste. Damping off might also become a problem. To avoid or reduce your chances of encountering damping off try to plant seeds when the soil is warmer and on the dry side. Gardening Tips and Tricks for Growing Beets Beetroots are simple to grow. They start early in the year and are best sown directly into the garden. Spacing is important and for the best crop you should harvest your beets in a staggered pattern down each row. That way the remaining beets will spread into the space your harvesting made. Also be careful as you harvest. The best quality beets for flavor and storage are those with undamaged roots. A favorite for gardeners and useful for organic dyes, beets are versatile and when pickled they offer homegrown nutrition all winter long. Leave the manure out of the beetroot patch and watch these plants thrive.