Q. What causes beet roots to fail to enlarge and often become woody?

A. For beet roots to enlarge and be of high quality, they must mature under ideal temperatures, moderate fertility levels and adequate moisture. High temperatures, low moisture and slow growth brought about by low fertility often cause inferior quality beet roots.

Q. I am canning beets and have some roots with poor color. What caused this?

A. The appeal of your final product will be enhanced by a deep, red color. Of course, zones of darker color and lighter color are natural in beets, but a light color is undesirable. Cooler temperatures (50 degrees to 60 degrees F.) produce darker colored beets than warmer temperatures (70 degrees F. and warmer). In general, fall and winter grown beets are darker than those grown in the spring. Small roots also usually have better color than larger roots.

Q. Are beet tops good to eat?

A. Yes, definitely. Many people prefer the tops of beets to the enlarged roots. Beet tops are prepared much like other types of green, such as collards or turnips, and have a distinctive flavor.

Q. Every time I plant beet seeds, more than one plant comes up from each seed. Is this normal or am I doing something wrong?

A. Table beet seeds are really clusters of single-seeded fruits grown together into a seedball or multiple fruit. It is common for several seedlings to come up from each seed planted. Single- seeded fruit of table beets are available, but are not usually used by home gardeners. After your beet plants start coming up, they should be thinned to 1 inch between plants to allow for normal root development.

Q. I always have trouble growing table beets. Could there be something wrong with my soil?

A. Probably. Beets do poorly in acid soils. Soils with a pH of 5.5 or less are usually unsatisfactory for growing table beets. Beets are an excellent test crop in many areas of east Texas to determine whether garden soils are acid. If beets fail, chances are the soil is acid and should be limed to adjust the pH.

Q. My beet leaves are perforated by small holes. These holes at first are purple and then fall out giving the leaves a shot hole effect.

A. This shot hole condition is caused by a fungus Cercospora. Cercospora, an airborne fungus, becomes a problem under wet, moist conditions. It can be controlled with the maneb sprays. However, in most cases this fungus does not cause any serious loss in beet size or development.

Q. My beets are stunted. I examined the root systems and found the roots covered by small galls.

A. These are root knot nematodes. Root knot is a species of nematode which causes galls or swellings on plant roots. It restricts the uptake of nutrients from the root system to the foliage, resulting in a yellow and stunted plant. Root knot lives in the soil and can survive on a number of weed and vegetable crops. It is best controlled by planting a solid stand (close enough for root systems to overlap) of marigolds three months before the first killing frost of fall and/or planting cereal rye (Elbon) for a winter cover crop. Cereal rye should be shredded and tilled into the soil 30 days before planting a spring crop.

Q. What is causing all the tiny holes in the leaves of my beets?

A. This is probably the feeding damage from flea beetles. Unless you plan to use the leaves for greens, treatment is seldom necessary. Carbaryl (Sevin) controls this pest, but there is no need for treatment unless plant development is prevented.

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