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Chapter 14: Beets

14.1 Varieties

Varieties differ in root color, shape and time to maturity.

Below are commonly used varieties in New York:

  • Avalanche (white)
  • Chioggia Guardsmark (red and white rings)
  • Detroit Dark Red (red)
  • Falcon (red)
  • Merlin (red)
  • Red Ace (red)
  • Ruby Queen (red)
  • Touchstone Gold (yellow)
  • Crosby (greens or roots)

14.2 Planting Methods

The beet is a cool-season, root vegetable that tolerates frosts and mild freezes. Seed germinates at soil temperatures between 40° and 90°F, optimally 50° to 85°F. Because beet plants withstand cool growing conditions and the seed germinates at soil temperatures below 50°F, planting can begin in late April. The best root quality and color are obtained when the crop matures during cool temperatures and bright sunlight. When grown under warm conditions, root color is lighter, sugar content is lower, and color zoning in roots is more pronounced than under cool conditions.

Beets are biennial, normally producing an enlarged root the first growing season and, after a cold induction period, a seedstalk. Premature seedstalk initiation can occur if the plants are subjected to two to three weeks of temperatures below 45°F after they have several true leaves. Plants of some varieties initiate premature seedstalks more readily than others; many of the newer varieties are less sensitive to this problem.

Well-drained, sandy loam to silt loam soil is preferred for best growth and quality. Beets can also be grown on muck soil, but weed control is difficult. A soil with good structure is highly recommended because beets respond favorably to aeration.

A beet seedball normally contains from two to four viable seeds, and more plants than seedballs may result, especially if conditions are favorable for germination. Larger seedballs contain more seeds than do smaller seedballs. Desired plant spacing is obtained by adjusting seeding rate. Plants are sometimes thinned for the fresh market. See Table 14.2.1 Recommended spacing.

Table 14.2.1 Recommended spacing

Type Row
(in inches)
In-row seeding rate1
(in pounds per acre)

Fresh-market

16-24 8-10

Processing

16-24 15-25
1: The lower rate of seed is sown early, so the roots will size quickly for early harvest.

14.3 Fertility

Use lime to maintain a pH of 6.5 to 6.8 in all parts of the field. Beets are especially sensitive to low pH and should not be planted in soil with a pH below 6.0. Because beets use boron inefficiently, this element must be applied to most soils in New York. A boron deficiency causes plant foliage to be stunted and distorted, and roots exhibit symptoms of internal breakdown. Boron is less available in high pH soils. Apply 2-1/2 to 5 pounds of boron per acre mixed with fertilizer. Use the lower rate if nutrients have been applied two to three times in the previous five years. Boron is toxic to many plants and care must be taken when developing a rotation plan. Beans, peas, and cucurbits are especially sensitive to boron residues. See Table 14.3.1 for the recommended rates of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

Table 14.3.1 Recommended nutrients based on soil tests

N pounds/acre P2O5 pounds/acre   K2O pounds/acre Comments
   Soil Phosphorus Level     Soil Potassium Level   
  low med. high   low med. high  
150-175 150 100 50   300 200 100 Total recommended
25-50 75 25 0   240 180 120 Broadcast and disk-in.
25 75 75 50   75 50 50 Band place with seeder.
50 0 0 0   0 0 0 Apply 4 weeks after planting.
50 0 0 0   0 0 0 Apply 6 weeks after planting.

14.4 Harvesting

For fresh market, the crop is usually ready for harvest in 60 to 85 days. The processing crop is harvested in 90 to 110 days, but a thick plant stand can be held in the field for a relatively long time. Processing beets are usually harvested until mid-November. Yields for the fresh market range from eight to 12 tons per acre and approximately 15 to 20 tons per acre for processing.

Machine harvesters are used for the processing crop and for the market crop that is sold topped. Beets for bunching are handpicked and tied. Topped beets can be stored for several months at temperatures near 32°F and 95 to 98 percent relative humidity.

14.5 Disease Management

14.5.1 Leaf Spots

14.5.2 Pocket Rot and Rhizoctonia Stem Canker, Crown Rot, or Wirestem

14.5.3 Seed Rot, Damping Off, and Root Rot

14.5.4 Sugar Beet Cyst Nematode

 

14.6 Insect Management

14.6.1 Spinach leafminer

14.6.2 Beet Armyworm

 

14.7 Weed Management

 

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Maintained by Abby Seaman, New York State IPM Program. Last modified 2019.