Unlike many root vegetables, beets (Beta vulgaris) are edible from the tops of their ruffled, red-stemmed leaves to the tips of their beet-red roots. Technically biennials in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 10, beets don't flower and set seed until their second year of growth. Table-ready as soon as their roots reach golf-ball size, however, they're typically grown as annuals. Grow beets from seeds sown directly from early spring to early summer, or from late summer though late fall.
Sunlight and Soil
The best beets grow with at least six hours of daily sun and loose, moist organically rich soil. That translates to soil amended at planting with a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic compost.
Put on the gloves and loosen the top 8 to 10 inches of soil with the spade or tiller.
Spade compost over the loosened soil and rake it into a 2- to 3-inch layer.
Work the compost into the soil with the spade or rototiller.
Plant beet seeds in rows set 1 to 1/1/2 feet apart. When the seedlings emerge, thin them to stand 2 inches apart unless they're to remain in the ground until the roots are fully mature. In that case, allow 4 inches between them.
Moisture and Mulch
Maintain a 1/4-inch layer of fresh grass clippings or shredded leaves around the beets through the growing season. Let the first layer dry before adding another. The organic mulch retains soil moisture, reduces weeds and promotes even root development.
Beet greens contain 92 percent water and -- as hard as they are -- beet roots contain 87 percent. For healthy growth, they need consistently moist soil and 1 inch of weekly rain or supplemental watering. In very hot, dry weather, 2 inches is better.
Always water beets slowly and deeply so the water penetrates to the roots instead of sliding off the soil's surface. Once-a-week watering is best for beets in loam or clay soil. If the soil is sandy, water them twice weekly with one-half the needed amount.
Providing beets with compost and wood ash at planting gets them off to a healthy start. Six weeks after planting, however, they benefit from an application of high-nitrogen, 21-0-0 fertilizer. Nitrogen stimulates leaf growth, an the leaves provide food for the roots.
Put on the waterproof gloves and safety goggles so dust from the granules doesn't irritate your skin or eyes.
Measure the amount of granules recommended on the product's label for the area of soil you need to treat. One manufacturer, for example, suggests using 4/5 ounces -- or about 1.6 tablespoons -- per 10 square feet of soil. Pour the measured amount into the clean container.
Scatter the granules evenly over the soil.
Water the fertilizer into the soil's surface and rinse stray granules from the plants.