Beets & Chard
Beets and chard are among the easiest vegetables to grow. They can take both cool or hot weather and are suitable in areas with either full sun or part shade. They’re also aesthetically attractive, making them a good choice in most urban gardens.
Interestingly, beets and chard were originally almost the same plant. While we only eat the leaves of chard, modern-day beets have been bred to produce large taproots, which are enjoyed in so many dishes, along with beet leaves.
Beets and chard can be started indoors or direct-seeded into the ground. In general, it’s easier to direct-seed them into the ground, but starting them indoors can reduce the outdoor time-to-harvest. They can be planted outdoors as early as 2-3 weeks before the last frost date in your area as they will survive light frosts.
Beets and chard will grow in both full sun and partial shade. That said, the greens of beets and chard will be more tender and tastier in a partial shade area of the garden while the roots of beets will size up more in full sun – so your choice of planting spot in the garden should be dependent on which part of the harvest that you value more. Plant the beets and chard into loose, fertile soil.
Beet and chard seeds are nutlets, each containing two or more seeds. As a result, you can plant them approximately 6” apart (i.e., you don’t need to overseed), and you can depend on fairly reliable germination. If you’d like larger chard leaves, space the seeds 12” apart. While you’ll usually see 2+ germinations per seed, you can thin them by keeping the more robust seedling and removing the weaker one, which can be enjoyed as a microgreen!
Water the soil regularly but don’t let the soil get too soggy or you may get root rot. For beets, as the plants begin to mature (usually halfway to maturity – approximately 30-40 days after planting), side-dress with a little bit of extra phosphorus-rich fertilizer to help size up the beetroots. For chard (or beet greens), side-dress with extra nitrogen after 30 days to create larger leaves.
Note: side-dressing involves spreading fertilizer on the soil surface in a line or circle beside your vegetable plants.
Pests and Diseases
Beets and chard are particularly susceptible to the beet leafminer. Leafminer flies lay small white eggs on the undersides of leaves and, upon hatching, the larvae burrow into the leaves of the plants and tunnel through the leaves for approximately two weeks. All affected leaves MUST be removed and relocated far away from your garden within those two weeks (preferably, as soon as you see the translucent tunnels in the leaves), or the cycle will start again.
Beets and chard are also susceptible to cutworms, slugs, and snails, so use diatomaceous earth around the base of the plants to prevent this damage. In addition, mice and voles may eat the tops of ripened beet roots, so consider hiding your beets and chard behind a row of onions (which most rodents avoid). Alternatively, you can place row cover on top of the plants as they mature, which will also prevent leafminer flies from laying eggs.
If you’re harvesting the beet greens in advance of the roots, cut these from the outside of the plants when they’re young, before the roots begin to size up. Once the roots start to grow, avoid harvesting any more greens and allow the roots to size up fully. Beet roots are ready for harvest approximately 8-10 weeks after planting.
For harvesting chard, wait until the leaves reach your desired size and harvest individual leaves from the outside of the plant. Take no more than 20% of the leaves on any individual plant in any harvest to allow the plant to continue to produce new leaves for later harvest.
Store the harvested beets and chard in airproof bags in the fridge for 1-2 weeks.
© Homestead Toronto / Derek Barber