I have sandy thin up hill black jack soil
and I have a terrible time growing beet
I grow lettuce and radishes but beets don't want to sprout or grow ground is loose and damp enough in spring to grow about anything
Getting beet seed to sprout is half the battle. We need to grow beets when temperatures are cool in order to get the best yield and best quality, and yet, they sprout poorly in cold soil.
Beet seed will germinate at almost any soil temperature between about 45 and 85, but you get the best germination when soil temperatures are 77 degrees. However, for the best-quality beets we need to have our beets planted and growing early, so they can mature before air temperatures begin regularly exceeding 65 degrees. For me, this means that I can get seeds to sprout pretty easily and quickly in fall, where they make a nice crop before the temperatures get too cold, and it is harder to get a good crop in spring. I am in southern OK where it often it too cold for good beet seed germination one week, and then too hot for good beet seed germination by the next week. I feel like the window of opportunity to get good germination is really brief some years.
You can trick your beets into sprouting quickly in a couple of ways. One way is by laying down black plastic on top of the soil for 2 to 4 weeks before you intend to plant your beet seeds. I usually weigh it down with 2 x 4 lumber or metal fence posts so it won't blow away. That will help warm up cold winter soil and increase your chances of getting good germination. Then, you can soak your beet seeds in a bowl of water in the refrigerator for 24 hours before you sow the seed into the soil. (This method works well with spinach seed as well.) Using these two 'tricks' in combination usually will give you a good stand of beets, even in late winter or early spring's erratic conditions.
Once the beets are up and growing, they are fairly heavy feeders, so if I had thin, sandy soil, I'd add composted manure, compost, or some other form of organic matter to the soil to help improve it. I always gather and chop/shred autumn leaves to my garden beds in the fall and by spring they are already breaking down into a lovely leaf mold that improves the soil wonderfully. You have to chop or shred the leaves (we run over them with the lawn mower and catch them in the mower's grass catcher) in order for them to break down quickly. If you use whole, intact leaves it can take them a year or two to break down.
The OSU-recommended planting dates for beets encompass the entire month of March. With OSU planting dates given as a range, the earlier date is for southeastern OK and the later date for northwestern OK. People living in between those two opposite ends of the state can choose any date between those two dates that seems appropriate for them. Down here in southern OK, I'd plant very early in March, but if I was in northwestern OK, I'd plant between the middle and end of the month. I also would plant earlier if it was a warm winter, and might plant later in the month if it was a cold winter. Choose the part of March that makes sense to you based on your current conditions at planting time.
You can succession sow more seeds every 3 weeks in order to spread out the harvest, and you'll get beets of fairly good quality until air temperatures start reaching the 80s, although they are best if harvested before the air temperature begins regularly exceeding 65 degrees.
I get much better crops of beets when I plant them in the fall and harvest them between Thanksgiving and Christmas than when I plant them in the spring. I had a really good beet crop this fall, and a smaller crop back in the spring when the weather got too hot much too early.
I've linked Tom Clothier's Chart that shows the relationship between soil temperature and seed germination. At each soil temperature, he shows you the percentage of seeds that sprouted and how many days it took them to sprout. The 'best' temperature is printed in red. Because we so often go from 'too hot' to 'too cold' all in the same week in spring, I don't necessarily wait until my soil temps reach the amount he has printed in red, but I usually don't plant at the coldest temperatures when germination rates are very low and it can take a month or more for them to sprout. I usually plant a week or two before I expect my soil temperatures will reach the best temperature. I take my soil's temperature using an oven thermometer with a probe, but some nurseries and garden centers sell soil thermometers or compost thermometers intended for the same use, but with a longer probe than the one I have on my old kitchen thermometer. The last time I tried to buy a kitchen thermometer to use in the garden, it was hard to find one that measured cold enough temperatures. I kept finding thermometers that started at higher temperatures, so the next time I may have to buy an actual soil thermometer. You also can get soil temperatures at various depths from your OK Mesonet station. Let me know if you want me to link the soil temperature page from the Mesonet if it is new to you and you are not familiar with it.
Hope this helps,
Here is a link that might be useful: Tom Clothier's Vegetable Seed Germination Chart
The only thing I might add is that sometimes beet seed is old and won't germinate. You might try presprouting it to test it's viability. I do this inside by wrapping the seed in a damp paper towel and checking it every day or two.
You're welcome, oldokie.
Dorothy, I'm glad you mentioned the age of the beet seed. I forgot about that.
I think beets like some alkaline soil. They do extremely well here and my pH is really, really high. Chard does really well, too.
If your beets won't grow, maybe try some lime.
Dawn, which varieties of beets do you like? I'm just starting to try new varieties. I love chiogga.
Tracy, I do think beets like neutral to alkaline soil. As best as I can remember, they perform best in soil with a pH or 6 to 6.8 but will tolerate a pH up to about 7.5. I have had to amend my soil a lot to bring down its 8.2 or 8.3 pH and it is a constant battle to keep it there. Beets grow well in it though, even in the areas that are not exactly the most well-amended/pH-corrected beds.
The beet varieties I usually grow are Bull's Blood, Chioggia and Golden. Sometimes I'll plant one of the beet seed mixes you can buy that contains several varieties in one packet.
I'm trying one of the beet mixes this year, Dawn. Have only eaten the greens from it as baby greens so far. They're in pretty deep shade until later on, that garden doesn't get sun so it's pretty nice for greens.
I have never tried the golden beets or bull's blood. They have golden beets at the health food grocery, look nice and are organic. I'll pick a bunch up and see if we like them next week!
Tracy, I love planting seed mixes of everything imaginable except for tomatoes. With my tomatoes, I want to grow exact, specific varieties and not have to wonder what I'll randomly get from a package of mixed heirloom tomato seeds.
If you like the idea of mixed varieties seed packs, you might like some of the mixes from Wild Garden Farms. I grew several of their wild garden seed mixes in my fall/winter garden and had all kinds of interesting plants. In their mixes, you get some of their varieties from their breeding program that are not otherwise available yet.
Here is a link that might be useful: Wild Garden Farms Website