How To Grow Beetroot

Beetroot is such a sweet crop. Virtues abound for the grower and the cook. They’re undemanding on the soil, grow quickly, not bothered by pest or disease, use hardly any space and get on well with everyone – all in all easy peasy … or is it? Some of you are having beetroot traumas. All tops and no bottoms, or turning out woody, miserable things. A tweak or two in the right direction and hey presto, from fail to success, from sad to happy. Let me take you there.


Between my greenhouse and garden I can grow beetroot year round if I sow a new row a month. From mid to late autumn until mid spring, I sow them direct in the greenhouse. There after they’re out in the garden. I tray sow initially, and once the soil reaches 15°C, I direct sow. During the hottest months I dot plants between sprawling squashes or flowers to moderate the heat.

Soil Prep

perfect beetroot sowing soil - friable and lush
Beautiful beetroot growing soil – nothing needs doing

The most important thing for beetroot is free drainage – beach dwellers rejoice! Being a fast turn around crop + a root crop, if soil is in good nick, it generally needs nothing added. If you are growing all tops and no bottoms chances are you are overdoing the additions – pull back and watch the roots go! Beetroot generally needs nothing added. If sandy or clay soil are your lot, spread a layer of compost. Make a mound in the case of poor drainage, or grow your beetroot in pots and keep working on your soil for another season.

The seed

Fresh seed is best. So is soaking those gnarly little nuggets over night.

jar with holes in the lid for soaking beetroot seed

Here’s my beetroot seed soaking jar. The holes in the lid make draining the soaking water off easy.

Put the seed in and cover with warm water. Leave overnight (or for longer if time gets away on you). I use a mix of seeds for the joy that different coloured beetroots in the same harvest brings. Tip the jar upside down and drain the water off just before sowing.

Now that there are only 2 beetroot eaters in our house I sow about 20 seeds a month. Sometimes I’ll double that to have extras to pickle or ferment. Bear in mind each seed is actually a cluster of seeds, so you may get 1 or 3 or 6 seedlings from one. And they won’t all germinate at the same time either. New ones will pop up along the way providing a useful staggered harvest. From one sowing I’ll be harvesting ripe beets over a 3 (or longer) week period.


Beetroot is so flexible – you can direct or tray sow it. Let soil conditions and temperature be your guide. When soil is warm and light, sow direct otherwise tray sow.

To tray sow, use small plug trays and pop 3 or 4 seeds in each plug.

To direct sow, make a small hole, twice as deep as the size of the seed and pop 3 seeds in it. Leave a 10cm space between each group of seeds. Keep an eye beneath the sack and once the beets have 2 leaves, peel the sack off. Protect these newbies with a bit of birdnet or birdsticks and if slugs are a risk then sprinkle bait or whatever it is you do to manage them.


beetroot grows well with tomatoes
Beetroot growing in front of the greenhouse tomatoes.

Beetroot grows best as a companion plant because it matures fast (50 – 60 days). Increase the usefulness of your space by planting it with long term crops like tomatoes, beans, broccoli, cucumbers or in between young squash plants or low flowers like chamomile and calendula. When your beetroot crop is the fast-growing companion to a long term crop, you’ll harvest the beetroot as the companion crop is taking over and filling the space. Continuity of ground cover looks after our soils in the best of ways as well as using our garden space efficiently.

Choose a companion with a spreading root rather than a bulbing one. Crops stacked like this compliment + support rather than compete. Though they are close together, they’ve got their own place in the jigsaw puzzle.


Thinning out your seedlings will produce lovely round beetroots. The bigger the spaces the bigger the beetroot. I find they grow faster and therefore are sweeter if I thin progressively retaining a sense of community and togetherness while they are small.

I leave my beetroots to grow together in little bunches of 3 with about a 10cm space between each group. Beetroot’s such a little guy – little roots, little tops – together they are stronger.

In those little bunches of 3 there will be one that matures fastest – simply peel it off, leaving the others to fill out. Whenever you harvest, scan the row and whip out any seedlings that are crowding. If you are ever so careful, you can transplant the thinnings.

Watering + feeding

Keep your beetroots barely moist, but don’t let them dry out. They don’t need extra feeding but will lap up your monthly biological feed.

The useful tops

Yes, beetroot tops are edible, but the roots need those tops, so don’t go knicking off with them while the beets are still growing. If you must, just use a leaf from each plant. The leaves of some varieties are better tasting than others. If you are eating them raw, young ones are the go.

Use the older leaves off harvested beetroot as you would chard or silverbeet. If you aren’t using them for dinner, snap them off and lay them on the soil to mulch the bit you just made bare.

From top to bottom, beetroot may just be the most useful crop in the garden.

In the kitchen

If you love beetroot, you’ll want to grow your own because it’s best used fresh. It deteriorates quickly, and the flavour changes developing a bitter note that hits the back of your throat.

Fresh beetroot is yum raw or juiced. Most often I grate it into salads. I dream of doing fancier things, but am too busy growing the vegies. Dinners are wholesome, but pretty basic round here.

Roasted beetroot is quick and easy, and usually I do this right after the morning harvest. I roast them whole and peel the skins off once they’ve cooled down. They last in the fridge for a week this way and are useful in so many ways. Sometimes I puree the peeled roasties to add to humus or use in baking. I also love them boiled, in an old fashioned beetroot salad with orange juice kind of way, but then I just love beetroot full stop.


  1. Thanks so much for the Beetroot article. I love beetroot too but I’ve had trouble growing it every year. Great to know it will grow well in the glasshouse – I’d assumed it would get mildew, so I’m definitely trying that!

  2. Melissa Bryant says

    Kia ora rā Kath. I planted out some bulls blood beetroot seedlings a few weeks ago – same well-drained vege beds with well settled soil (ie. no not-yet-composted richness), plenty of mulch and shelters from the sea “breeze” (ie. gales) as last year – but somehow instead of making huge lovely juicy beetroots like last year, they’ve already bolted to seed! Wonder what I did wrong? Maybe I trusted too much in all these rainy days instead of watering the little seedlings enough? They looked happy though; no wilting or signs of weakening like getting eaten by things… Love to hear your or other readers’ thoughts…