Lucrecia Anderson wrote:
My problem with beets is that they just don't seem to grow here (greens get big but roots stay miniscule). The soil is a loose combo of sand and red clay. Its not just me, other far more experienced gardeners around here also say they just can't get beets (or spinach) to grow well.
In the south we have to grow beets early and late in the season, once it gets hot beets are doomed. (same goes for all the brassicas like Broccoli, Brussel sprouts etc.)
We plant our spring beets in mid February and is harvested just before June gets going, (we use row covers until the rainy season is petering out), our fall beet crop goes in about mid September and we harvest just before the first killing frost.
We harvest the outer beet greens and use them like you would kale, turnip or mustard greens all throughout the growing season.
The real trick is keeping the soil moist and using a mulch between the rows does help in the fall more than in the spring.
Clay soil is not good beet soil, you would need to add compost and then add sand, in that order so the clay doesn't turn into brick making material.
One of our beet beds was mostly red clay (topsoil was only about 6 inches deep at the outset), we added in 150 lbs. of good compost and then we added 275 lbs. of 8 mesh sandblasting sand (sharp sand).
We still don't have this bed in great beet growing shape but we can grow beets in it and get a fair crop.
What I've been doing is adding the experimental drums after the spring season is over to this beet bed, it is getting better as I go along with the testing (this was the 4th year of testing soil mixes).
I would recommend picking one bed (ours is 36" wide and 18 feet long for two planted rows) and growing some winter peas, clovers, buckwheat and then turning those into the soil or chop and drop then turn the soil.
Don't go deeper than 8 inches when turning and once you have that done, come back with some mushroom slurries to get the fungal part of the soil built up.
When you have the soil starting to get nice and crumbly then add sand to open up the structure of the soil (just spread it and use a garden fork in a twisting pattern (straight up and down then twist once in each direction) to work the sand down into your newly structured soil).
Beets love to have lots of fungi in their soil, it allows the bacteria to move all the needed nutrients to the plants root system and that seems to be a key factor for growing good tasting beets and other root crops.
Never eat the skin, it is where all the bitter likes to settle in. The easy way to slip the skins off is to steam the beets for 10 to 15 minutes and use nitrile gloves and an old "tea towel" to rub the skins off and keep your hands from being dyed by the beets.
Beet juice is one of the nicest reds (maroon) you can natural dye with, I've done cotton and wool yarns in the past.