Beetroot requires a finely prepared soil if it is to form well-shaped roots. Picture: Supplied

Beetroot is a stalwart of the garden; an efficient crop (one can use both the leaves and roots) which doesn’t take up much space, and is also very nutritious. 

The leaves are a good source of calcium, iron and vitamins A and C, and the taste is milder than Swiss chard. The root helps to detox the liver, tones the blood and builds red blood cells.

Beetroot needs: Full sun, neutral to slightly acidic soil that drains well and regular watering.

Planting

Beetroot requires a finely prepared soil if it is to form well-shaped roots. Sow seeds 3cm apart, in full sun, directly into the soil about 2cm deep, in rows 30cm apart. Keep the soil moist during germination and they will germinate quickly - within 7-14 days.

Germination tip: Did you know that beetroot seed naturally contains a chemical that inhibits germination, which is why seed often doesn’t sprout until after heavy rain? To help nature on its way, soak the seed in lukewarm water for about an hour before sowing. It should germinate within 10-14 days.

Growing tips

Because the seeds are actually seed clusters of 2-5 seeds, the seedlings will appear in fairly dense clumps. If you want a good root crop, it is necessary to thin out the seedlings to about 5cm apart when they are about 5cm high, otherwise the roots become woody.

You can replant these seedlings in a new row, provided the roots have not been damaged. Thin the rows a second time when they are about 7cm high. 

The remaining seedlings should be about 10-15cm apart. The seedlings from the second thinning can be planted as a row, or used as greens for the table, or can even be used straight away as small leaves for the salad bowl. 

Water regularly throughout the growing season and feed once a month with a liquid fertiliser. (Feed those planted in containers once a week.)

Companions

Onions and kohlrabi are particularly good companions for beetroot – if you have the space sow a row of each, next to each other. Other good companions are dwarf beans, lettuce, and cabbage. Beetroot does not like being planted near mustard and will grow poorly if done so.

Harvesting

Beetroot bulbs are best for picking when they are 5-10cm in diameter. Store leaves and roots separately in the fridge. Cut off the tops, leaving stems around 2-3cm long. Use leaves within a few days. Roots will keep for 2-3 weeks.

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