Q: I want to try planting beets this year in my fall garden. What varieties does the University of Florida recommend?
A: Beet is native to areas of Europe, the Near East, and Africa adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea. Beets can be planted from September until March in Northeast Florida. Tall Top, Early Wonder, Detroit Dark Red, Cylindra, Red Ace, and Yellow Detroit are all heirloom varieties recommended for our area.
Just so you know, the leaves are also edible and can be added to soups, stews and salads so very little of the beet product is wasted. Tall Top provides large leaves for salad harvesting. Early Wonder is a common variety used by most gardeners as it produces a full size beet early in the season. Detroit Dark Red produces a 3 inch dark, red beet about mid season. Cylindra is a beet shaped similar to a carrot and grows about 6 inches long with a mild, sweet flavor which takes about 56 days to mature. Red Ace is an easy, reliable beet which takes about 53 days until harvest and it probably the best one to start in your garden. Golden Detroit is very sweet, does not bleed its color when cooked, and takes about 60 days to mature.
Put the seeds about ½ to 1 inch deep in the soil and the soil needs to stay moist initially or the seeds will not germinate properly. If you plan to plant rows, they should be 1.5 to 2 feet apart. Good, consistent irrigation is important for root crops to form properly – but not too much! Be sure to have the soil pH tested prior to planting your fall garden as this will determine the type of calcium to add to the soil. The ideal pH range for vegetable crops is 6.0 to 6.5 – slightly acidic. However, beets are not that picky about the soil pH. It is recommended to add your calcium source 30 days or more prior to planting. The Callahan office can run a pH test any day of the week from 8am to 5pm; the Yulee satellite office is manned by a Master Gardener volunteer on Fridays from 10am to 2pm (except holidays).