By: Susan Patterson, Master Gardener
By Susan Patterson, Master Gardener
Beets are a favorite garden vegetable of gardeners in the United States. Also known as blood turnips or red beets, table beets provide a nutritious source of vitamins C and A. Beet tops or greens can be cooked or served fresh, while the roots may be pickled or cooked whole. Beets are also popular ingredients in many vegetable smoothie and juice recipes. What happens when you have deformed beets or your beets are too small though? Let’s learn more about these common issues with beet roots.
Although beets aren’t difficult to grow, there are times when issues come up that compromise the quality and size of beets. Most beet root problems can be alleviated by proper planting. Plant beets thirty days before the frost-free date. Seedlings establish best in chilly weather. You should also plant successively, in three or four week intervals, for beets all season long.
The most common issues with beet roots involve small or deformed beets.
Beets don’t like to be crowded, and it is imperative that seedlings be thinned to 1 to 3 inches (2.5-8 cm.) apart and rows at least 12 inches (31 cm.) apart. Leafy tops and poor growth issues with beet roots develop when beets are too close together. For best results, ensure adequate spacing between plants and rows.
When beets are too small, it can also be due to a lack of nutrients, namely phosphorus. If your soil has a higher nitrogen content, then your beets will produce more lush top growth rather than bulb production. By adding more phosphorus to the soil, such as bone meal, you can induce larger root growth.
Sometimes beets are too small or malformed as a result of too much shade or overcrowding. Beets prefer full sun but will tolerate some partial shade. For the best quality, aim for at least five hours of sun a day.
Beets don’t like acidic soil and may perform poorly in soil with a 5.5 or less pH rating. Take a soil sample before planting to ensure that you don’t need to amend the soil with lime. Additionally, beets prefer sandy, lightweight soil that drains well.
The best way to overcome issues with beet roots is to provide adequate growing conditions. Even if all these conditions are met, however, beet root problems may still occur. Don’t let this sway you from enjoying your crops anyway. If all else fails and you find yourself left with small or deformed beets, you can always harvest the leafy tops for greens.
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A great addition to your late-summer plot, this root is high in fiber and rich in vitamins.
High in fiber and rich in vitamins A and C, beets have more iron than other vegetables, including spinach.
Better yet, the classic beet's red coloring comes from betalains — a combination of the purple and yellow pigments that deter the formation of cancer-causing free radicals. "The betalain pigments are potent antioxidants," says Irwin Goldman, Ph.D., a beet geneticist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Those pigments make beets a feast for the eyes as well as nourishment for your body. Beetroots' rich reds, golden yellows, creamy whites, and stunning stripes will add a brilliant splash of seasonal color to your autumn meals.
Their bright green foliage with red veins and stems will brighten up your garden beds, too. Beet greens are also tasty raw, braised, or stir-fried. And if you allow a little of the foliage to continue growing, you get plump roots that you can store and eat after cold weather sets in.
Seedlings have a natural tendency to grow toward light. When the light source is too dim or far away, the seedlings kick into survival mode and grow quickly in height to try to get closer to that light.
Unfortunately, there’s only so much growing a seedling can do and what it gains in height, it sacrifices in girth, resulting in thin, fragile stems.
This is why, with seeds started in windowsills, you might notice your seedlings leaning toward the sun, sometimes to the point of bending completely sideways.
This is a double whammy for your seedlings since being bogged down in the seed starting mix, where it’s moist and warm, can make them more susceptible to damping off disease.
Overly high temperatures, such as those maintained over a heating mat or under a humidity (germination) dome, can lead to a rapid growth spurt in seedlings.
As soon as the seeds germinate, they respond to the heat by putting up tall, skinny stems before leaf production has a chance to catch up. This results in unbalanced seedlings that are “all legs.”
If you’re inconsistent with watering and the seed starting mix often dries out between watering days, it prevents the seedling from growing a strong stem and leafing out well.
Continued lack of moisture will turn them spindly and eventually kill them as they’re unable to access the nutrients they need from the soil.
With tiny seeds, it’s tempting to simply scatter them in one large tray and thin the seedlings as they grow, but proper spacing helps prevents leggy seedlings as well.
If you don’t manage them during initial development, overcrowded seedlings will try to grow taller and taller as they compete with each other for light.
Beets can be grown all winter in many South Texas areas. Farther north they should be planted as soon as the soil can be worked in spring. Soil temperature must be at least 40F for beet seeds to sprout.
Using a hoe handle, stick or similar object, make a furrow ½ inch deep down the center of the ridge (Fig. 4). Each beet seed produces 2 to 6 plants. Space the seeds 1 to 2 inches apart in the row. Cover seeds lightly with loose soil and sprinkle with water. Use seed treated with a fungicide to prevent the young plants from rotting. Plants should be up in 7 to 14 days. In hot weather, cover seed with sand or light-colored mulch.
For continuous supply of beets, make several plantings 3 weeks apart.
Figure 4. Make a furrow ½ inch deep down the center of the ridge.
Beets and chard grow best in deeply dug, rock-free soils rich in organic matter that have a pH between 6.5 and 7.5. The beds should be fertilized normally, though adding a teaspoon of borax (mixed with something like bone meal or wood ashes for even distribution) per thirty-two-square-foot bed is a good idea because beets are sensitive to boron deficiency. One major problem with germination of beets and chard is that soil can crust over the seeds, leading to plants being trapped underneath the crust. This will cause uneven stands with different rates of maturity. To solve this problem, make sure there is plenty of well-finished compost in the soil.
Beta is the ancient Latin name for beets,  possibly of Celtic origin, becoming bete in Old English.  Root derives from the late Old English rōt, itself from Old Norse rót. 
Beets were domesticated in the ancient Middle East, primarily for their greens, and were grown by the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. By the Roman era, it is thought that they were cultivated for their roots as well. From the Middle Ages, beetroot was used as a treatment for a variety of conditions, especially illnesses relating to digestion and the blood. Bartolomeo Platina recommended taking beetroot with garlic to nullify the effects of "garlic-breath". 
During the middle of the 19th century, wine often was coloured with beetroot juice. 
Below is a list of several commonly available cultivars of beets. Generally, 55 to 65 days are needed from germination to harvest of the root. All cultivars can be harvested earlier for use as greens. Unless otherwise noted, the root colours are shades of red and dark red with different degrees of zoning noticeable in slices.
Usually the deep purple roots of beets are eaten boiled, roasted, or raw, and either alone or combined with any salad vegetable. A large proportion of the commercial production is processed into boiled and sterilized beets or into pickles. In Eastern Europe, beet soup, such as borscht, is common. In Indian cuisine, chopped, cooked, spiced beet is a common side dish. Yellow-coloured beetroots are grown on a very small scale for home consumption.  The green, leafy portion of the beet is also edible. The young leaves can be added raw to salads, whilst the mature leaves are most commonly served boiled or steamed, in which case they have a taste and texture similar to spinach.
The domestication of beets can be traced to the emergence of an allele which enables biennial harvesting of leaves and taproot. 
Beetroot can be roasted, boiled or steamed, peeled, and then eaten warm with or without butter as a delicacy cooked, pickled, and then eaten cold as a condiment or peeled, shredded raw, and then eaten as a salad. Pickled beets are a traditional food in many countries.
A traditional Pennsylvania Dutch dish is pickled beet egg. Hard-boiled eggs are refrigerated in the liquid left over from pickling beets and allowed to marinate until the eggs turn a deep pink-red colour.
In Poland and Ukraine, beet is combined with horseradish to form ćwikła or бурачки (burachky), which is traditionally used with cold cuts and sandwiches, but often also added to a meal consisting of meat and potatoes. Similarly in Serbia where cvekla is used as winter salad, seasoned with salt and vinegar, with meat dishes. As an addition to horseradish, it is also used to produce the "red" variety of chrain, a condiment in Ashkenazi Jewish, Hungarian, Polish, Lithuanian, Russian, and Ukrainian cuisine.
Commonly used in Australian hamburgers, a slice of pickled beetroot is combined with grilled pineapple, cooked onion, fried egg on a beef patty to make an "Aussie burger".
A common dish in Sweden and elsewhere in the Nordic countries is Biff à la Lindström, a variant of meatballs or burgers, with chopped or grated beetroot added to the minced meat.   
In Northern Germany, beetroot is mashed with Labskaus or added as its side order.  
When beet juice is used, it is most stable in foods with a low water content, such as frozen novelties and fruit fillings.  Betanins, obtained from the roots, are used industrially as red food colourants, e.g. to intensify the colour of tomato paste, sauces, desserts, jams and jellies, ice cream, sweets, and breakfast cereals. 
Beetroot can also be used to make wine. 
A moderate amount of chopped beetroot is sometimes added to the Japanese pickle fukujinzuke for color.
Food shortages in Europe following World War I caused great hardships, including cases of mangelwurzel disease, as relief workers called it. It was symptomatic of eating only beets.