When and How to Harvest
Gardeners should harvest beets when the green tops are 4 to 6 inches tall, roughly 60 to 80 days after planting the seeds. The beet roots will be about 1-1/2 to 2 inches in diameter and are tender when cooked. Beets larger than 3 inches in diameter are generally woody and fibrous. Larger beets, called stock beets or Mangels, provide feed for livestock. To get the beets out of the ground, gardeners use a digging fork to loosen the soil around the beet plant and pull the beet root up from the ground.
Cutting Tops and Cleaning
After the beets have been removed from the ground, cut the green tops an inch above the root. Failure to remove the tops will cause the leaves to draw moisture from the root. The root will then shrivel and lose its flavor. Leave the taproot intact on the beet. The taproot improves the storage life of the beet root and prevents the loss of moisture and nutrients. Clean dirt from the beets with a scrub brush and cold water, being careful not to break off the taproot or break open the skin.
Best Storage Conditions
The best storage temperature for beets is 32 Farenheit, just above freezing, with a humidity of 95 percent. Store beets in the refrigerator in a perforated plastic bag for up to a week if you plan to use the roots immediately. Beets can also be stored in a root cellar. Store the beets between layers of moist sawdust or sand in a galvanized tub or wooden box. Consume the beets throughout the winter. Any beets that sprout will be woody and fibrous, and they should be fed to livestock or composted.
Fresh beets must be cooked before they are frozen. Wash them and sort by size, putting the 1-inch diameter beets in one pile and the 2-inch diameter beets in another. To prevent bleeding, do not remove the 1-inch green tops or the taproots. Boil the smaller beets for about 25 to 30 minutes and the larger roots for 45 to 50 minutes, or until tender. Immediately remove the beets from the boiling water and carefully put them in cold water. When they are cool, rub off the skin with your hands. On a cutting board, cut off the stems and roots. Cut the beets into cubes or slices. Pack the prepared beets into freezer-safe glass jars or plastic containers and fill with water, leaving 1 inch headspace for the liquid to expand. Seal and freeze for up to one year.
Canned beets are prepared the same way as frozen beets. After the beets have been cleaned, boiled and skinned, cut them into slices or cubes. Pack the beets into clean, hot canning jars. Leave 1-inch headspace and add 1/2 teaspoon of salt to pint-size jars and 1 teaspoon of salt to quart-size jars. Fill the jars with boiling water, leaving a 1-inch headspace. Wipe off any liquid on the jar opening and put the lids on the jars. Process the beets at 11 pounds of pressure in a dial-gauge pressure canner or at 10 pounds of pressure in a weighted-gauge pressure canner for 30 minutes for pints and for 35 minutes for quarts.