5 Reasons Every Market Farmer Should Grow Beets

Beets are an attractive presence on a market table that are quick and easy to grow. Here are the basics on these colorful vegetables.

by Jesse Frost
PHOTO: Tim Sackton/Flickr

Not everyone loves beets, but the people who love them really love them.

Chefs and home cooks alike seek beets across the color spectrum for the vegetable’s sweetness and unique, earthy profile. Beets can be roasted and served with goat cheese as a side or salad. They can be pickled or fermented into kvass. They can be ground and put into burgers or “beetloafs.” Beets are a versatile crop to eat, and a versatile crop to grow. I believe every market farmer should consider growing them. Here are five reasons.

1. Speed

Chefs often prefer baby beets, and these take roughly 40 to 50 days to reach maturity. Full size or large beets generally take longer than 50 days to reach maturity. Either way, compared with crops such as corn, carrots or melons that can take 70 or more days, beets are on the market table in a short amount of time.

2. Storage

There are beets bred specifically for winter storage. These can last several months with no problems in a cooler. However, even beets that are not bred or sold as storage beets can store for a few weeks in the cooler, making them sellable for a longer window of time. Grew too many beets? Not to worry, you’ve got some time to find them a home.

3. Ease

Beets are not too finicky of a crop. They do like the soil to have boron, so consider that, but otherwise beets just need the same fertile and well-drained soil with consistent watering that most crops do. Although they might require some washing, they are fairly robust and easy to handle post-harvest.

4. Looks

I would never suggest that you grow a crop based solely on how it looks, but beets are definitely a beautiful crop for your market display. Customers are generally attracted to bountiful, colorful tables, and beets have these qualities. The roots’ colors range from pink to purple to gold to even white, which would be alluring enough, but the beautiful greens attached to them make beets ideal for “piling high and kissing goodbye,” as the old farmer saying goes.

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5. Profitability

Because beets are so fast to grow and the seed is fairly inexpensive, beets can be a great cash crop. I recommend spacing them well enough to get a consistent crop, fertilizing their beds well, adding boron (do a soil test first—a little goes a long way), and keeping the weeds out. But do all that, and your beets will practically sell themselves. Pricing them depends on your area—a market in downtown Washington, D.C., might support a higher price than one in, say, rural Tennessee. So price your crop based on the local market, how much it cost you to produce it, and also the seasonality. If you are able to have beets in the late winter, early spring or middle of summer, there is no reason you can’t charge a premium.

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