I'm a beet failure

momofsteelex3(7)May 13, 2013

The whole purpose of starting this garden was for beets to make pickled beets for my kiddos...and I failed. I managed to get sprouts, about 2 inches tall, but they haven't done anything else. So here I am looking for advice on what I can do to replant for a fall harvest. My 1st thought is to work my ground. But since I don't really know what I did wrong, I don't know how to start fixing it. So any advice, tips, suggestions would be fantastic!


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Bre, I failed last fall. I ran out of growing season before they sized up good. As a guess I would say that working in compost would be about the best thing you can do. To get a fall crop you may have to start while it is still hot and dry, which means you have to water them. Last fall was the first time I tried fall beets, and I should have started sooner.

As a side note. We were getting so much rain early this year that I spread a large tarp over the garden where the beets were, hoping that most of the water would just run off. When I removed the tarp about 2 weeks ago I still had beets trying to grow.


    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 11:21AM
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You're not alone. I planted a 10ft row and only 5 came up.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 11:24AM
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Larry- Any time it got cold here I would cover with a tarp but that was it. So I take it that beets don't really like or need water then? I worked a whole bag of compost in before I planted them, but I guess its not enough. The soil they are in is more rocky/clayish then the rest of the garden, and I would guess that is my problem, along with over-watering?

ReedBaize- Glad to know I am not alone!

Sometimes I feel like I have so much to learn about gardening that is seems impossible.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 1:49PM
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You are not alone. Most years I plant beets the first week in March, thin them when they are a couple inches tall, cultivate carefully, keep them moist and start picking baby beets about now and full size beets in early June. This year the beets came up, got a half inch tall and were eaten off leaving tiny stems with no leaves. I replanted in early April, but the cold weather stunted them. I have a few beets but I don't think they will make anything to speak of. Since we built the greenhouse, I 've been planting beets in October, covering them with sheets when the indoor temp drops into the 20s and pulling beets in March and April. They are smaller than outdoor beets but tender and tasty. I haven't had much luck with fall beets,but I will try again.

It sounds like your heavy soil may be part of the problem. Like all root crops beets need to be able to expand and heavy soils prevent that. Beets don't like to be flooded, but they don't grow well in dry soil either. Better luck to all of us next time.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 3:23PM
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Bre, I think beets like moist soil. The reason I covered that part of the garden was because I needed a place to put a large nasty construction tarp. I was hoping to turn some rainwater and maybe kill grass in the garden. I guess the beets lived because of the energy stored in the bulb. The times I had good luck with beets was when I had good sandy soil.

Think compost is the best "Cure-All" a gardener can have.
I just finished tilling in 80# composted cow manure, 100# of mushroom compost and 6 bags of grass clipping into a 150 sq.ft. area (new bed) where I will plant Seminole pumpkins.


    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 3:58PM
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This has been a bad yr for beets here too. I usually have a bumper crop in my clay /rocks. I added mucho compost this yr. But it was still hot compost. It just dries out and i think the more it broke down left air pockets. I think it air pruned the beet roots. But my turnips and cabbage Suffered too.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 6:40PM
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This has been a bad yr for beets here too. I usually have a bumper crop in my clay /rocks. I added mucho compost this yr. But it was still hot compost. It just dries out and i think the more it broke down left air pockets. I think it air pruned the beet roots. But my turnips and cabbage Suffered too.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 7:04PM
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I have noticed that I have moisture retention problems also if use a lot of compost, making mulching even more important. I also think the darker color soil absorbs more heat and evaporates the moisture faster, again pointing to the increased need for mulch. I have no choice, I have to have the compost to loosen my soil, and the mulch because my soil is so shallow it cant hold a lot of moisture.
I had rather garden without mulch, but I cant afford the water needed without mulch. Also without mulch I have to water so often that every weed seed in the garden germinated.


    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 8:24PM
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Sprinkle a balanced fertilizer on them, water them well, wait a couple of days, and water them again. Scratch the top inch of soil every few days. If it is dry, then water again. Repeat until you have beets large enough to pickle.

I have beets that are about the size of yours and beets that are six or seven inches tall. (I planted too early and lost some. Then I replanted by putting seed in the gaps.) You need to give them more time. Be patient. Make sure you water them when needed. When the beets start filling out and the roots begin to grow they will surprise you how fast they go.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 10:41PM
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Lisa_H OK(7)

We used to grow beets when I was growing up in Colorado...I would have been thrilled if our beets failed...but nope, every year we had beets :) I think I was the only child I knew that ate them...and beet greens. I did learn how to make Harvard beets...I liked them better that way.

However, much to my vocalized joy almost every year the spring hail storms took out the peas and black eyed peas. I might have done a few hail dances in my childhood!

Here is a link that might be useful: Harvard beets

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 11:57PM
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Thanks everyone! I guess I shouldn't be too upset since this is my 1st garden of this caliber, and my 1st time growing beets, or anything from seed. Still hurts the pocket book though bc now I am going to have to go down to the farmers market and look for beets to pickle, or buy jars of pickled beets to keep my kiddos happy lol! Just glad to know I am not the only one who didn't fair well on them.

I planted them on April 1st bc I kept getting behind on trying to get everything ready. I thought they may not like the soil they were in, and will move them to where the corn is now next year to see if they do better. Besides the soil not being the best there, they get a lot of drain off when it rains, and we had a lot of rain this spring it seems.

Mulberry- I wondered if the crazy weather played a part in them not growing..warm, cold, hot, cold, warm...if I were a beet, I would be confused!

Scott- I will give them some more time then. I didn't water them last night..just the onions that are in the same bed.

Lisa- my grandma told me to doctor canned beets too! But let's face it, they just aren't as good! I hope my kids don't get the idea to hail dance! I might just cry lol!

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 1:02PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


You know, you are not a beet failure. Maybe the beets have failed to germinate as desired or to grow as well as you expected, but it is the beets that are failing, not Bre.

The main issue with getting a good harvest from any cool-season crop in the spring in OK results from planting too late. We have a very tiny window of opportunity when the temperatures are cool enough for the plants to perform their best. That means that if anything happens, like if you start late or if they germinate slowly, it can be hard to get a good crop because we often go from too cold one week to too hot the next week. I usually have happier beets with less trouble in fall than in spring. I think that beets germinate a lot better in warmer soil, but grow better in cooler soil, making them more suited to our fall weather than our spring weather when the soil often warms up incredibly quickly.

Since yours germinated and are growing, i second Scott's recommendation that you just water them and keep them growing actively. Be sure you do thin them properly. I try to remember to thin them as soon as they have one or two true leaves and are still really short--like only an inch or two tall. Beets like really fertile soil and can be helped along with a feeding of fertilizer when they reach 5 or 6" in height. They enjoy plentiful moisture as long as they are in well-draining soil.

With beets (as with many other root crops), if you let the soil get too dry or if you let the soil moisture level fluctuate between being too wet and too dry, the beets can become cracked or misshapen. Aim for keeping the soil constantly moist, and mulch it to help keep the soil from drying out. I've noticed this week that the parts of the garden I haven't managed to get mulched this week have soil that is blazing hot in the afternoons.

There could be a very slim chance that there is a nutrient issue because beets can just sit there and not grow at all if their soil is deficient in boron, though I've never heard of that being an issue in OK soils. Boron deficiency would be most likely on the more alkaline soils of western OK than anywhere else in the state where the soils more often range from neutral to acidic. How will you know if the beets are growing in boron-deficient soil? When you pull the beets at harvest time, they'll have areas with black tissue. It may have a texture that is sort of like cork.

Other reasons that beets might stall and just sit there and not grow would be that your soil might be too acidic for them or that your soil is nematode infested. If you have nematodes, you'll know when you harvest the beets because the roots will have little knots or nodules on the hair roots that extend from the fleshy beets.

To plant beets in fall, I usually soak the seed in water overnight before planting. This helps them germinate really quickly. In fall or late summer, beet seeds often germinate in about a third of the time it takes them to germinate in colder soil in mid-winter or earlier spring.

As an aside, it is a whole lot more comfortable to be in the kitchen canning in cooler fall weather than in the summer months.


    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 5:35PM
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wulfletons(Zone 7a)

I have no words of wisdom, but stopped by to sympathize. Beets were the only veggies I was NEVER able to grow in Albuquerque. I am not sure I will even try here. I do love roasted beets, though!

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 7:51PM
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Empathy here too. My father always grew beets but I have yet to succeed. I was envious of a friend's beets last year until she told me she'd started with plants from Atwoods.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 8:48PM
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Dawn- always the words of wisdom! Thanks! And your right, its not me failing, its the beets. Still sucks though! But it won't stop me from planting a fall crop, or from trying again next spring. And I am sure it didn't help planting them so late. But I didn't expect to have to pull 100's of pounds of rocks out of the ground either, so I was delayed.

And I look forward to canning in the fall, more so then this summer! So there is a plus side here, you are right!

I will just let them keep growing until I get close to time to replant, then I plan on working the ground a bit and seeing if I can't get it to take on more of a soil feel then the rocky/clayish mess it seems to be now.

Here's to hoping I get a fall crop! That we all get a fall crop!

    Bookmark   May 15, 2013 at 12:19PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Betty, I didn't even know that they sold beet transplants!

Bre, You know, you can grow beets in fairly shallow containers. I grow them in windowboxes sometimes, and have grown them in an old rusty wheelbarrow filled with soil-less mix and in flat, black, rectangular tubs sold at home improvement stores on the concrete aisle. Those tubs are intended to be used to mix up small batches of concrete. We just drill holes in them for drainage and grow greens in them in the fall, winter and spring. When you have dense clay or rocky soil. it can be a lot easier to grow carrots and beets in containers.



    Bookmark   May 15, 2013 at 4:51PM
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Yeah, I had no idea they sold transplants either!!

I never though of beets as something to grow in containers. But I might give that a try too since the begging for pickled beets has begun! If I do containers, could I do them all winter long you think? Just do them in the garage under a light? Or are the winters mild enough I could leave them out. I think we stayed pretty well in the 50's for most of the winter last year. Now to start planning and plotting!

    Bookmark   May 16, 2013 at 11:37AM
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qbush(6, NE MA)

Don't give up! I also had difficulty with beets three years ago, after having grown them easily for years.???

I monitored : planting time, planting depth, soil temp, moisture, drainage, ph, age of seed stock, bug damage, deer damage all to no avail. I planted them 4 times in 3 separate locations. No Beets. Grr.
Next year I started them in very young soil, just out from under a shed we had torn down. Some rock removal, and reasonable drainage. Buckwheat and half made compost early in spring (March in weird MA winter) and Voila, Beets Boro and Beets Flat of Eqypt did nicely. Almost to the DTM on package, which given my shortage of full sun is unusual.
This year, in different beds, they are doing even better. I did add some phosphate to those beds, but I cannot swear that is what helped. That being said, I will add a small amount to beds in fall, and keep track next year
Good luck.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2013 at 11:40AM
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