I’ve always been one to thin my vegetable seedlings, beetroot included. I have found over the years that plants do better if they're not competing with resources (sun, water, nutrients). Thinned plants are usually a little more resilient from bug attacks - particularly aphids.
After watching a Youtube clip from fellow youtuber Mark from Self Sufficient Me and his beetroot harvest, I noticed that he doesn’t thin his beets and still it produces a bumper crop.
I decided to test his theory in my own space.
If you’ve ever taken time to look at beetroot seeds, you’ll notice that they look more like bubbly clusters, and that is because they are clusters of multiple seeds. It’s near impossible to thin and move the seedlings without damaging them once they have germinated so it’s much better to sacrifice by snipping off the extras carefully with scissors. If you’re one to let nature take its course it makes sense not to thin.
Results of thinning vs not thinning
Initially I had intended not to thin any of my beetroot seedlings. However, nature had other plans like it usually does and some ended up living a solo life. The vast majority continued to grow in clusters of 2 to 3. The size difference is markedly different. With the solo beets becoming humongous and the clusters staying at ‘baby beet’ size, but 3 occupying the same amount of space as opposed to one.
Should you thin beetroots?
It’s all relative to what you really like. If you like big beets to slice for your hamburgers, thin them. If you like baby beets, then don’t - it’s not like the baby beets are costing you anymore in seeds.
Personally I do prefer the bigger ones as it’s less labour intensive come processing time. We always preserve our beets in a pickling brine, so peeling the bigger ones is a lot easier than peeling lots of little ones.
Tips for growing
Choose a sunny position, being a root crop they need sun to fully develop. Being a root crop I find they are best direct sown - spaced around 10cm apart, but unlike carrots they will handle transplantation if you need to raise them in trays first.
They don’t mind soil on the alkaline side, so when growing a crop of beets I add a bit of blood and bone mixed with some dolomite lime. And of course a top dress of compost before planting out. Don't over fertilise otherwise you'll end up with all leaf and no beet. Luckily the leaves are also edible.
It’s best to grow them quickly if you can, any that stay in the ground too long will go woody. Regardless of size, I always try to harvest within 3 months.
They like water, but like most veggies don’t let them get soggy feet as they’ll end up rotting on you.
Favourite beets to grow
Honestly it’s like picking a favourite child! I love growing the Cylindrica over the warmer months and the golden and early wonders over the cooler months. I love the look of the candy stripe chioggia, but because we mostly pickle our beets I don’t grow them as much - the colour fades and they don’t have the deep earthy flavour and sweetness of the other varieties that has that beetroot nostalgia I grew up with.
Listen to this via the podcast
Do you thin your beetroots? What are your favourites to grow?