Start with soil. Beets grow best in loamy, acid soils (pH levels ranging between 6.0 and 7.5). If your soil is heavy clay, rocky, hard, or alkaline, mix in an inch or so of compost. Add a bit of wood ash, if handy, because its rich supply of potassium enhances root growth. If in the past you've harvested beets with black, hard spots in the flesh, they've suffered from the aptly named disease black heart, which is caused by a boron deficiency. Adding compost to the soil or spraying plants with seaweed extract will help somewhat, but if the symptoms persist, have your soil tested.
Thin is in. Beets aren't fond of crowds, so when sowing the seeds, plant them about 1 inch deep and 3 to 4 inches apart, or sow them closer together and use the thinnings later for salad fixings.
Mulch makes right. Spread a layer of grass clippings, shredded leaves, or straw around your beet patch to help keep the moisture consistent—that's essential for uniform root growth. Be sure to mulch well in spring to protect your beets from unexpected hot spells.
For containers. Get a pot that's at least 12 inches deep, and you can grow beets on your deck, suggests Lance Frazon, of John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds in Bantam, Connecticut. "Beets are a natural for containers," he says, adding, "just make sure the containers are watered more than an in-the-ground garden."
Rotation resistance. Beets are relatively disease and pest free, and even the problems they do have are relatively easy to manage organically. For instance, you can prevent diseases by rotating crops of beets, spinach, and Swiss chard with other types of vegetables. And use cover crops during the off-season,
advises George Abawi, Ph.D., a plant pathologist at Cornell University.
Miners not major. Beet-leaf miners (Pegomya hyoscyami) can become a problem, but even if they do get into your beet leaves, says Mary Ballon, owner of West Coast Seeds in Delta, British Columbia, you can just tear off the damaged portion. She favors the "two fingers" method as the best way to control this pest, which tunnels into the leaves. "Do a daily inspection of the leaves by feeling around the leaves for any bumps, and apply two fingers," Ballon says with a laugh. "It is the only pest that sits still to be squished!" To keep leaf miners and other pests away, simply place row covers over your beets during the insects' busiest time between May and late June.