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Information sheets   |   Elsenburg infopaks   |   Crops, vegetables: 7

The cultivation of beetroot Afrikaans | Xhosa

Beetroot grows best in cool weather, but it can be planted throughout the year. The best time to plant is from early spring to early summer (August, September, October) and again late in summer and into autumn (February, March, April). These are the cool periods of the year. Beetroot does not grow well in summer when it is very hot, neither does it grow well in the middle of winter when it is very cold.

Crimson Globe and Detroit Dark Red can be planted.

Beetroot will grow on any soil type except acid soil. It grows well on brackish and on alkaline soils, but the soil must be well drained. This means that when plants are watered, the water must soon drain into the ground and not be left as long-standing puddles. If this happens, compost must be worked into the soil. This will also prevent the soil from forming a crust through which the young plants can emerge only with difficulty. However, compost must not be worked into the soil just before the beetroot is sown, otherwise the beetroot can become hairy and form thick lateral roots. Already work the compost into the soil a season before the beetroot is grown. First plant a vegetable like cabbage and then follow it up with beetroot in the next season. This is a form of rotational cropping, which means that you do not plant beetroot on the same patch of ground year after year. It also prevents the accumulation of diseases and insects in the soil.

The most important plant nutrient required by beetroot is nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K) and boron (B). Beetroot requires a great deal of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, but only a small quantity of boron. The soil does not always have enough of this for beetroot, and then the beetroot farmer must supplement it. It is important not to give too few or too many plant nutrients, therefore the soil must first be analysed so that the plants will not be burned, nor show poor growth.

If you do not have the soil analysed, the following quantities may be given:

At planting, 80g of 2:3:2 (22) with zinc (Zn) per square metre (m2).

This fertiliser is a mixture of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus and it contains a little bit of zinc. This means that four kinds of plant nutrients are given to the plants simultaneously. They must be worked into the soil thoroughly before the beetroot is planted.

Three to four weeks after the beetroot has been planted, or when the plants have reached a height of 15cm, or a height equal to the length of one’s hand, the following can be applied:

25g of sulphate of ammonia per m2 or

20g of limestone ammonium nitrate (LAN) per m2.

(One square metre (m2) is equal to a square made by putting four shovels on the ground, their ends touching.)

If there is too little boron in the soil, the beetroot will have black blotches on both the inside and the outside. It will also display black cracks and holes. If this occurs, 1g of Solubor per m2 can be worked into the soil before beetroot is planted there again. This is less than a quarter teaspoonful of Solubor per m2 of ground. Take care not to apply any more than this, because too much is toxic to the plants.

Before beetroot seed is sown, the ground must be levelled and lumps, stones and weeds must be removed. The seed is sown in slit trenches or small furrows having a depth of 2cm. When the plants emerge, some of them must be pulled out to leave the remainder enough growing space. The space between the plants must be about 7cm. The space between the rows must be about 20cm.

It is very important to keep the soil moist until the plants emerge. In the case of very hot weather, a layer of grass cuttings, straw or long leaves of grass can be placed on the beds to protect them from drying out. Such a layer is called a mulch. When the plants begin to emerge, the mulch must be removed so that the plants will not be lanky. When the plants have fully emerged, the mulch can be replaced again between the plants, but the plant leaves must not be entirely covered. The mulch between the plants keeps the soil moist longer and also, to an extent, prevents the emergence of weeds.

Beetroot has shallow roots and it is important to water the plants regularly. If they experience long dry periods, the beetroot will become hairy and fibrous. During cool weather, the plants can be watered once a week. During very hot weather, less water can be given two to three times a week instead of a lot of water once a week.

Beetroot can be harvested when it attains a width of 7.5cm.

M Jordaan
ELSENBURG / CRADOCK experiment station