QUESTION: How do you harvest and store beets? Are there any tips to tell when they are ready? -Heather S
ANSWER: Beets can be harvested anytime you like during their growth cycle. Beet greens are typically best when they reach four to six inches tall, and roots are the most tender after they have been growing for 40 to 50 days. The ideal size for harvesting beetroot is between one and one fourth to two inches in diameter. As beets grow larger, their texture becomes more fibrous. Whenever you decide to harvest them, leave at least one inch of foliage on the root to avoid letting the roots bleed during cooking.
For the best possible taste, harvest beets just after they reach maturity. The flavor of the beet fluctuates when the plant is harvested in the heat of summer and tends to taste better when picked in the spring or fall. Beets can withstand being left in the soil during a mild frost or freezing but should be harvested before any hard freeze occurs. Beets also tend to be better when harvested when they are small in size, or around one and a half to two inches, depending on variety. The texture of many of the larger beets can become woody or fibrous unless they get plenty of water during hot weather. You don’t have to pick all of your beets as soon as they reach harvesting size, but the sooner you pick them, the better they seem to be. For the sweetest flavor and the most tender texture, grow your beets in the fall and harvest them right after the weather starts to turn cool.
Wash your beets thoroughly after harvesting and allow them to dry completely before storing. Cut the tops off two inches above the root and store in plastic bags in the refrigerator, where they will remain fresh for one or two weeks.
For long term storage, keep beets in damp sand in a cool, humid place, such as a root cellar. First remove beet tops, leaving around a half an inch of stem and don’t cut root end to prevent bleeding. If leaves are not removed, water will travel to them from the roots and the beets will shrivel as a result. By snipping off the greens and laying them in layers of damp sand, sawdust, or peat moss in a plastic container with a tight lid, such as a garbage can, you can store beets for the majority of the winter. The lid needs to remain closed to keep the moisture in the sand. If layered and stored in a cool place such as an attic or garage, they will store well for two to three months like this.
Though frozen beets are not very pleasant to eat, freezing will preserve your beets for around 8 months. Canned beets will store well for over one year. Beets can also be pickled and stored in the fridge for six to eight months.
Beet greens should be removed early to thin the seedlings, then again several times during the growing season to encourage the plant to focus on root production. These greens should be tossed into salads, soups, or stir-fries. Be sure not to overharvest the beet greens, as excessive removal will inhibit root growth. Harvest beet greens lightly until the beet is ready for harvest at one to three inches in diameter. Young, tender leaves are preferred, but leaves remain usable until they begin to get too large, as their flavor gets stronger as they grow larger, and becomes overpowering when the leaves reach full size. Beet greens can be stored for several days in the fridge wrapped in plastic.