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Oregon State University
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Beets and Chard

Beta vulgaris

Last revised August 6, 2004

Seeding o Fertilizers o Harvesting, Handling, Storage o Pest Control: Weeds, Insects, Diseases


VARIETIES (round beets require 60-70 days and cylindrical beets 70-80 days depending on planting date, sizes desired and season).

Processing Beets
Processor specifies; varieties used are: Detroit Short Top and other strains such as Ruby Ball and Scarlet Supreme. Hybrid: Red Ace F1 (Cercospora tolerant). For trial, round: Big Red, Pacemaker III, Warrior. For trial, cylindrical: Forono and Cyndor (half long), CXA 9026, Cylindra, Formanova.

Note: Hybrid beets have the advantage of greater seedling vigor and improved top growth and resistance to certain diseases such as Cercospora. On the negative side, the vigor of hybrid beets may result in beet roots going "out of grade" more quickly if harvest is delayed by poor weather or other reasons. Cylindrical beets offer greater uniformity and efficiency of sliced beet production, a major pack requirement for processors.

Fresh Market Beets
Red, round types: Detroit stains, Ruby Queen (bulbs well when crowded). For trial: Charlotte, Firechief, Honey Red, Kestrel, Monaco, Moneta, Pablo, Wodan.
Hybrids: Red Ace F1, Hybrid Pacemaker III. For trial: Avenger F1, Big Red, Ivax (monogerm), Warrior F1.
Bunching: Crosby's Greentop. Winter Keeper (long season, for late fall gardens).

Novelty Beets
Red elongated: Cylindra, Forono (half-long). For trial: CXA-9026 and Cyndor (both half-long), Formanova
Yellow, round: Burpee Golden. For trial: Golden.
Yellow elongated: For trial: Long Yellow.
White, round: For trial: Showhite, Albino.

Note: Most cylindrical varieties produce beets with an "earthy" taste that has limited their adoption. The numbered line CXA-9026 from Alf Christiansen Seed Company has been tested and found to not have this trait.

Spinach Beet
Beta vulgaris Orientalis group, a form of common table beet or leaf beet, grown for its succulent leaves which can be harvested over an extended period. Sugar beet leaves may also be used as for "greens" and are considered superior to table beet leaves.

Swiss Chard
Beta vulgaris Cicla group: has large, well-developed petioles that may be red, white, green, or multi-colored. These are grown for limited markets, but primarily in home gardens.
Green petiole: Lucullus.
Red petiole: Charlotte, Rhubarb Chard.
Multi-colored petiole: Bright Lights (red, yellow, white, orange, purple, pink).


SOILS

Beets grow well on sandy loam, silt loam, or muck soil. They may be grown on heavier soiltypes, but harvesting is more difficult and root growth may be impaired. Uniform soil moisture is essential for best quality. Rotate crops to avoid damping-off and root rot diseases. Beets are sensitive to damping off on soils that may flood or otherwise have poor aeration.

Adjust soil pH to 6.0 or higher for maximum yields. Follow soil test recommendations for liming rates.

Fields in which processing beets are to be planted are usually tested by the processor for residues of chlorinated hydrocarbons and rejected if these residues are found to be unacceptable.


SEEDING

In western Oregon, table beets may be planted from about March 20 to July 10.

Table beet seed numbers approximately 1,600 per ounce. Seed is size graded with sizes 9 and 10 (64ths of an inch), ranging from 28,000 to 32,000 seeds per pound being preferred when planting beets for processing. Using a limited size range of seed simplifies planter calibration and proper plant stand establishment.

Use treated seed only to reduce losses from damping off and other seedling diseases. Plant seed l/2 to 3/4 inch deep in rows 18 to 24 inches apart. About 15-25 lb/acre of seed are required. From 15-30 seedlings/foot may be desired, depending on size grade and earliness wanted. Beets mature more quickly when plant stands are thin and later when plant populations are high. Yields and grades are directly influenced by plant stand and harvest date. Beets intended for early harvest should be planted to produce 15-20 seeds/foot of row. Beets for mid-season harvest and late harvest are planted to produce 20-25 and 25-30 plants/foot of row respectively. For orderly commercial harvest of the needed size grades and harvest season, processing companies establish or suggest seed sizes, seeding rates, as well as planting and harvest dates.

Growers sometime plant more than one plant density in a field to allow for an extended harvest period.

In western Oregon, beets for processing are planted from about April 1 to about May 30. John Deere flexiplanters, Planet Jr., and Stanhay planters are most commonly used.

Since beet seed is multi-germ, (producing 1-3 seedlings per seed ball), precision planting has not been considered important. However, recent studies by Oregon State University indicated that even with multi-germ seed, sizes tend to be much more uniform with precision planting and high densities. This research evaluated the possibility of closer row spacings (12 inces between rows and 24 seeds per row foot), flail topping, and the use of non row-oriented harvesters (similar to potato diggers) and results of two years of trials were very promising. These included satisfactory overall yields of high-grade beets and higher dollar returns/acre in comparison with conventionally spaced beets harvested with Scott-Viner type harvesters.

For fresh market beets, plants should be 2-3 inches apart. Six to 8 lb seed/acre are sufficient. The planting season may extend through the month of June.

Baby beets: Small beets intended for whole pack and pickled packs may be produced by reducing the spacing between rows to about 10-15 inches and maintaining about 30-35 plants/foot of row. More commonly they are sorted out of the regular harvested product in normal processing operations.


FERTILIZER

Soil tests are the most accurate guides to fertilizer requirements. Good management practices are essential if optimum fertilizer responses to table beets are to be realized. These practices include use of recommended varieties, selection of adapted soils, weed control, disease and insect control, good seed bed preparation, proper seeding methods, and timely harvest.

Because of the influence of soil type, climatic conditions, and other cultural practices, crop response from fertilizer may not always be accurately predicted. Soil test results, field experience, and knowledge of specific crop requirements help determine the nutrients needed and the rate of application.

Recommended soil sampling procedures should be followed in order to estimate fertilizer needs. The Oregon State University Extension Service agent in your county can provide you with soil sampling instructions and information sheets.

These recommendations are for western Oregon and are based on a 24-inch row spacing.

NITROGEN (N)

Rates of l50 to 200 lb N/A are recommended. The lower rates of N are used following a good legume crop such as alfalfa or red clover. Highest N rates are suggested following grain or grass seed. Broadcast the N before planting or up to half the N may be applied as early-season top dressings.

Nitrogen is important in maintaining the top growth needed for efficient harvest since traditional harvesting equipment handles beets by their tops.

PHOSPHORUS (P)

Phosphorus is necessary for vigorous early seedling growth which may reduce damage from "damping off." Band 50 to 70 lb phosphate (P2O5) per acre as superphosphate, or as triple superphosphate, l inch directly beneath the seed.

Warning: Severe seedling burn can result if N-P mixtures or fertilizers containing K or B are banded directly beneath the seed.

Broadcast and work the remainder of the P into the seedbed ahead of seeding as follows:


                If the soil test*           Apply this amount of

                for P reads (ppm)          phosphorus (P205) lb/A:

                     0 to 25                       120-150

                    25 to 50                        70-120

                     over 50                        50- 70

*Assumes extraction procedures similar to those used by the OSU Central Analytical Laboratory. Specific information on soil test procedures is available from the Dept. of Crop and Soil Science.

POTASSIUM (K)

Broadcast and work K into the soil before planting. Apply as follows:

            If the soil test*                  Apply this amount of 

            for K reads (ppm)                  potassium (K2O) lb/A:    

                 0 to  75                            120 - 150

                75 to 150                             80 - 120

               150 to 225                             60 -  80

                 over 225                               none

*Assumes extraction procedures similar to those used by the OSU Central Analytical Laboratory. Specific information on soil test procedures is available from the Dept. of Crop and Soil Science.

SULFUR (S)

Plants absorb S in the form of sulfate. Fertilizer materials supply S in the form of sulfate and elemental S. Elemental S must convert to sulfate in the soil before the S becomes available to plants. The conversion of elemental S to sulfate is usually rapid for fine ground (less than 40 mesh) material in warm, moist soil.

The S requirements of table beets can be provided by:

  1. The application of 15-20 lb/A of S in the form of sulfate at planting time.
  2. Applying 30-40 lb/A of S as fine ground elemental S the preceding year.
  3. Applying more coarsely ground elemental S at higher rates and less frequently.
Some S fertilizer materials such as elemental S and ammonium sulfate have an acidifying effect on soil. Sulfur is contained in several fertilizers used to supply other nutrients.

MAGNESIUM (Mg)

To date, no yield response from the application of Mg to beets has been observed in western Oregon. Trial applications of 10 to 15 lb Mg/A are suggested when the soil test value for Mg is below l.0 meq Mg/100g soil. Magnesium can also be supplied in dolomite which is a liming material that reduces soil acidity to about the same degree as ground limestone. Dolomite should be mixed into the seedbed several weeks in advance of seeding.

BORON (B)

Boron deficiency (canker) in table beets has been severe in some areas. In these areas foliar applications of water-soluble B materials are needed in addition to soil application.

The following B fertilizer programs are suggested:

1. Preplanting treatment: Apply 3 to 5 lb B/A (broadcast and disked in). This rate has been adequate where canker has not been severe.

2. Combination treatment. This is to be used where canker is severe or where beets are held for late harvest: Preplant application of 3 to 5 lb B/A (broadcast and disked in) plus 2 to 3 foliar applications of water-soluble B materials. For each foliar application, use l lb B/A (in 50 to 100 gal water) at the following times:

  • At time of enlargement (bulbing) of beet roots.
  • When beet roots are 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter.
  • Additional application 10-14 days later.
Lack of moisture will aggravate B deficiency. Boron should not be banded but should be applied evenly to the field. If growers apply all the boron as a preplant broadcast treatment, 8-10 lb B/acre are usuallly used.

LIME

Table beets are less tolerant of soil acidity than bush beans or sweet corn.

Lime applications should be made when the soil pH is 5.8 or below, or when calcium levels are below 7 meq Ca/l00g soil.

                If the buffer*                  Apply this amount

             test for lime reads                  of lime (T/A)

                 below 5.2                               4-5

                   5.2-5.7                               3-4

                   5.7-6.0                               2-3

                   6.0-6.3                               l-2

                  over 6.3                                 0

*Assumes extraction procedures similar to those used by the OSU Central Analytical Laboratory. Specific information on soil test procedures is available from the Dept. of Crop and Soil Science.

The liming rate is based on 100 score lime. Lime should be mixed into the soil at least several weeks before planting and preferably the previous fall. A lime application is effective over several years.

Some soils may have a fairly high SMP buffer value (over 6.2) and a low pH (below 5.3). This condition can be caused by the application of acidifying fertilizer. In this case the low pH value is temporary and the pH of the soil will increase as the fertilizer completes its reaction with the soil. This temporary "active" acidity from fertilizer is encountered following recent applications of most nitrogen fertilizer materials.

Acidifying fertilizers also have a long term acidifying effect on soil which is cumulative and leads to lower SMP buffer readings.

Sandy soils to which fertilizers have not been recently applied sometimes record low pH and high SMP buffer values. In such cases, a light application of lime (l to 2 T/A) should suffice to neutralize soil acidity.

For acid soils low in magnesium (less than l.0 meq Mg/100g soil), l T/A of dolomite lime can be used as a Mg source. Dolomite and ground lime stone have about the same ability to neutralize soil acidity.

Fertilizer Guide #3, "Liming Materials for Oregon," which is available from your local OSU Extension Office, provides additional information on lime.

These guides to fertilization are largely based on the results of experiments conducted by Horticulture and Crop and Soil Science Department scientists of the Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station and are quoted from OSU Fertilizer Guide FG 13.


IRRIGATION

Irrigate carefully, especially early in the season so as not to overwater beets. Water logging can cause beet leaves to turn red and plants to stop growing for a time. A total of 12-14 inches of water may be needed in western Oregon.

Soil type does not affect the amount of total water needed, but does dictate frequency of water application. Lighter soils need more frequent water applications, but less water applied per application.

Excessive irrigation or moisture early, can result in damping-off and other seedling disorders. Water deficiency however, can aggravate boron deficiency.

Beet Water Use:
The following crop water use and irrigation management information is from the OSU Table Beet Irrigation Guide developed by M. Hess, J. Smesrud, and John Selker (Dept. of Bioresource Engineering) and N.S. Mansour:


Total Seasonal Evapotranspiration (inches)	15.1	

Peak Evapotranspiration Rate (inches/day)	0.21	

Maximum Allowable Depletion (percent)   	50	

Critical Moisture Deficit Period:	        seed germination, root expansion	

Moisture management in beets is especially important during stand establishment, the early growth stage, and during root expansion. Since small beet seeds are unable to emerge when surface crusting occurs, irrigation during the pre-emergence period revolves around maintaining a loose soil surface. This often requires frequent, light irrigation. Conversely, deep, excessive irrigation which results in anaerobic soil conditions can cause damping off of emerging seedlings during emergence and temporary cessation of growth in young plants. In the remainder of the season, available soil moisture should not be depleted by more than 50 percent.1 As beet roots develop most of their size in the last half of their growth period, irrigation is especially critical during this time. Water deficit during this period will have the greatest negative impact on yields. A balance must be struck, however, between maintaining adequate moisture while minimizing wetness in the canopy that promotes the common fungal diseases alternaria, cercospora, and ramularia. During the last half of the growing period, irrigate only early in the day to allow for rapid canopy drying whenever possible.

The peak water use for beets, which occurs in July, is approximately 0.21 inches per day. On most soils, weekly irrigation during the peak is adequate. With with sandy and sandy loam soils, however, irrigation may be required as frequently as every three to four days.

References:
1. Sanders, D.C. 1993. Vegetable Crop Irrigation, Leaflet No: 33-E (North Carolina State University, Raleigh).


PHYSIOLOGICAL DISORDERS

Table beet roots occasionally suffer from a disorder known as "zoning," in which there are alternating red and pale bands in a root cross-section. The pale areas do not accumulate the deep red anthocyanin pigment normally associated with red beets and rings may remain nearly colorless or white. This disorder is most pronounced in hot weather and when table beets are grown in climates to which they are not well-adapted. Most commercial beet production is in Oregon, New York, and Wisconsin, or in more southerly states during the cooler parts of the year. Contributing factors in zoning are high temperature and variety. Moderate high temperatures and cool nights favor good pigment development and decrease incidence of zoning. Varieties commonly grown in Oregon, such as 'Detroit Dark Red Short Top', 'Scarlet Supreme', 'Red Ace', and 'Warrior' are not susceptible to zoning under our summer growing conditions. Some garden-oriented seed companies offer zoning-susceptible varieties as novelty items.


HARVESTING AND HANDLING

The University of California-Davis has a file on Minimal Processing of Fresh Vegetables that discusses film wrapping and other topics.

Table beet harvest for processing generally extends from about July 15 to the end of October, but may extend into November. The prime harvest period is between August 1 and October 1. Individual fields may be harvested over a several week period.

Yields of processing beets average approximately 18 tons/acre with good yields approximately 25 tons/acre. Fresh market beets are reported to average 140 cwt/acre with good yields of 200 cwt/acre.

Beets for processing may be stockpiled for several days without serious deterioration but this is not usually recommended. Roots should be reasonably dry and free of soil for best results. For longer storage, proper storage facilities are needed.

Beets are usually harvested and topped by locally custom-built machines which may be tractor pulled or self propelled. However, beets can be harvested with single or multiple-row harvesters that can be custom built by Krier Engineering, 4774 Morrow Rd., Modesto, CA. Contact Mr. Alex Krier, 800-344-3218, for more information.

Because of the slowness of Scott-Viner type harvesters and their high maintenance requirements, table beet growers in Oregon are beginning to use multiple-row diggers similar to potato harvesters. This requires that the tops be removed before digging. Top removal is done in two steps, using a flail to remove leaf blades and as much top as possible without damage to the roots, followed by a sugar beet-topping device with three drums of rubber-fingered flails. The latter removes the remaining leaf blades to within an inch or two of the beet root. Roots are harvested with an AMAC harvester (see below) which lifts the beets, accomplishes more topping with a hedgehog belt, and loads the beets into bulk trailers or trucks for transport to the processor. Data from OSU trials in 1997 and 1998 indicate acceptable yields of high-value (small diameter) beets with this system. It is important to consider soil type and weed control and to experiment with the proper interval between toping and digging to allow for the harvest of clean product.

Custom-built beet and carrot harvesters, as featured in the summer,1999 issue of Carrot Country, are available from:

  • Amac, Inc., a Dutch company represented by KPR Inc., POB 608, 375 West Ave. D, Wendell, ID 83355-0608, Phone 208-536-6601, FAX 208-536-6695, E-mail info@KprIncorp.com, Internet www.KprIncorp.com
  • Asa-Lift, a Danish company represented by Miller Farms, Hancock, WI, Phone 715-249-5160, FAX 715-249-5860, Email MillerFM@uniontel.net
  • Everett Bros. Engineering Ltd., a British company. USA Tel/FAX 407-396-7515, Email sales@everettbros.btinternet.com, Internet www.everett-bros-eng.com
  • Univerco Hydraulique (1978) Inc., a Canadian company. 713 Rte. 219, Napierville, PQ, J0J 1L0, Canada. Phone 800-663-8423, FAX 514-245-0068.
Follow processor recommendations for time of harvest. Beets are usually harvested when root size distribution approaches 25% grade 1, 60% grade 2 and 15% grade 3 paid weight, with about 1% culls. Grade 1 beets are 1-1 5/8 inches, grade 2 are over 1 5/8 to 2 5/8 inches and grade 3 over 2 5/8 to 3 1/2 or 4 inches depending on processor requirements. These grade distributions vary from year to year according to the type of product being processed and seasonal variations. In general, grade 2 percentage ranges very little, with most of the yearly or seasonal range differences occurring in grade 1 and grade 3 beets.

Beets are hauled from the field to the processor in 10-14 ton loads in double-axle dump trucks.


STORAGE (Quoted or modified from USDA Ag. Handbook 66 and other sources)

Store beets at 32 F and relative humidity of 98 to 100%. Like other root crops, beets are well adapted to storage. Topped beets stored at 32 F can be expected to keep 4 to 6 months under suitable storage conditions. Either cold storage of cool-cellar storage is suitable, provided the humidity is kept sufficiently high to prevent shriveling.

Cellar storage temperatures fluctuate and are often higher than 32 F, so the period of successful storage will be comparatively shorter. The temperature in such storage should not exceed 45 F to minimize sprouting and decay. Beets wilt readily from loss of water, therefore, they should be kept where the humidity is sufficiently high to prevent excessive evaporation. Small beets soften and shrivel earlier than larger ones.

Before beets are stored, they should be topped and sorted to remove all those with disease or mechanical injury. Beets should not be stored in large bulk; and they should be stored in well-ventilated containers, such as ventilated bin boxes or slatted crates, to help dissipate respiratory heat. Increasing the carbon dioxide level in beet storages to 5 to 10 % increased fungal spoilage.

Bunched beets are much more perishable than topped beets, but they can be stored at 32 F for 10 to 14 days. Use of crushed ice is helpful in keeping the bunched beets cold, especially if refrigeration is not available.

Beet greens and other greens are handled like spinach. Because of their perishability, they should be held as close to 32 F as possible. At this temperature, they can be held for 10 to 14 days. Relative humidity of at least 95 % is desirable to prevent wilting. Air circulation should be adequate to remove heat of respiration, but rapid air circulation will speed transpiration and wilting. Satisfactory precooling is accomplished by vacuum cooling or hydrocooling. These leafy greens are commonly shipped with package and top ice to maintain freshness. Research has shown that kale packed in polyethylene-lined crates and protected by crushed ice keeps in excellent condition for 3 weeks at 32 F but only 1 week at 40 F and 3 days at 50 F. Vitamin content and quality are retained better when wilting is prevented.


PACKAGING

Fresh market beets are usually bunched by hand and are packaged in 35-lb half-crates, or 32-lb 4/5 bushel crates. Beets intended for processing are harvested as needed into self-unloading trucks or bulk truck bodies or trailers for immediate transport and processing.



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