Beets & Carrots

Beta vulgaris and Daucus carota

Quick Facts

  • Plant family: Chenopodiaceae or Amaranthaceae (Beet) and Apiaceae or Umbelliferae (Carrot)
  • Season: Cool
  • Life Cycle: Biennial, but commonly grown as an Annual
  • Seed to first harvest: 50-70 days (beets), 70-90 days (carrots)

History

beet-plant-family-illustration
Figure 1. Beets belong to the Chenopodiaceae (or the larger Amaranthaceae) plant family.

Beets are members of the Chenopodiaceae (or Amaranthaceae) family, also known as the beet or Goosefoot family, which includes other cool season crops like spinach, Swiss chard, orach, and quinoa (see Figure 1).

Beet, or beet root, is a very ancient crop dating back to 2000 B.C. Beet was likely domesticated in the Mediterranean region, taken to Babylonia around the 8th century B.C., and introduced into China in 850 A.D. The Romans ate beets in the 3rd and 4th centuries, as they were believed to promote good health. Records of beet root recipes have been traced to England in the 14th century. Originally only beet greens were grown, but by the mid-1500s an improved beet root variety was developed, and beets became an important food crop in Germany and France. Beets were brought to the U.S. by early colonists. In the 1800s red, white, and yellow beets were widely grown and served as an important survival crop that was stored and consumed throughout the winter. See Figure 3.

Carrots are members of the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family (also known as the carrot family), which includes many flowering plants and herbs like celery, fennel, parsley, and dill (see Figure 2).

carrot-plant-family-illustration
Figure 2. Carrots belong to the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae plant family.

Carrot is thought to be a descendant of the widespread wildflower Queen Anne’s lace. It was likely native to Afghanistan around 3,000 B.C. and had yellow or purple roots. Carrot then spread to the eastern Mediterranean and Spain around the 12th century. It was originally cultivated for medicinal purposes and didn’t become an important food crop until the 16th century. The original carrot was yellow or purple, but by the 1500s, the first reports of orange carrots appeared and carrots had become known throughout Europe. Orange carrot varieties weren’t developed until the mid-1700s in the Netherlands. This food crop was brought to the U.S. by early colonists, who shared the plant with Native Americans. It is thought that transportation of carrots to North America is also how Queen Anne’s lace was introduced to the New World. See Figure 3.

origin-and-migration-beets-carrots-map
Figure 3. Map showing the origin and migration of beets (green) and carrots (blue) to the U.S.

Beet and carrot are both actually biennials (the plant’s life cycle from seed to flower takes two years) but are most commonly grown as an annual crop (one season/year).

Varieties

Beet and carrot are cool season crops and are considered root vegetables, as they are grown primarily for their large, fleshy roots. They are frost tolerant and mature in cool weather. Both beet and carrot are considered half-hardy (resistant to frost and light freezes when acclimated).

Beet varieties vary in root shape (oblong or cylindrical) and color (white, red, yellow, pink, orange) with edible petioles (stems) of different colors (white, red, or yellow) and green leaves. Some varieties are grown as microgreens as well as for their tops as beet greens. Beets are generally easy to grow, don’t require a lot of space, and store well.

Carrot varieties are generally grouped by shape and days to harvest into the following types: (1) Chantenay, (2) Danvers, (3) Nantes, and (4) Imperator (Figure 4). Chantenay type carrots are short in length with broad shoulders tapering down to blunt ends. Danvers type carrots are medium in length with broad shoulders tapering down to pointed ends. Nantes type carrots are medium in length, evenly slender and cylindrical from shoulder to tip, and early maturing. Imperator type carrots are the late-maturing standard market type, long in length, slender, and taper down to pointed ends.

chantenay-carrotdanvers-carrotnantes-carrotimperator-carrot

Figure 4. The main types of carrot (left to right): Chantenay, Danvers, Nantes, and Imperator.

Beets and carrots have either open-pollinated (including heirloom) or hybrid varieties. There are many varieties of beet and carrot recommended for Louisiana. Heirloom beet varieties include Bull’s Blood (French), Chioggia (Italian), Cylindra (Danish), and others. Carrot heirloom varieties include the French Chantenay Red Core and Scarlet Nantes. These seeds have been saved for at least 50 years, can be saved each season and replanted, and are open-pollinated. Flowers produced by these root crops are perfect (containing both male and female parts) but are prone to cross-pollination. If you are saving seed, different varieties must be separated by a distance of 1/3-1/2 mile to avoid cross-pollination. Generally, it is not recommended to save seed for future planting with hybrid varieties as they are usually not expressed properly in the next generation.

Table 1. Beet and Carrot Varieties for Louisiana

When and How to Plant

Beets are frost hardy and may be planted 4-6 weeks before the last frost date. As a cool season crop, the soil temperature range for germination is 50-85 degrees F, optimally 75-85 degrees F. Beet and carrot seeds should not be sown if the soil temperature is over 95 degrees F or below 40 degrees, as this will reduce germination success. The use of a soil temperature map can help guide planting decisions. Seedlings may survive a light frost but should be planted after any risk of a heavy freeze.

Beets and carrots are usually direct seeded outside at a shallow 1/8-1/4-inch depth in rows. When direct seeding outside, it is recommended to scatter seeds (broadcast) in a 2-inch-wide furrow or line that is about 1/4-inch deep. Lightly cover with soil or compost and water in. Beds should be firm before planting and soil should be firmed over the seed at planting to create good contact of seed with the soil. Light watering will be required frequently during warm, dry periods for adequate germination. Thin to the recommended plant spacing after seedlings are a few inches tall and begin to crowd each other (refer to the Beet and Carrot Planting Guide, Table 2). The thinned plants do not transplant well but are edible and often used as microgreens. Beet and carrot seeds are typically slow to germinate (7-14 days). For a continuous harvest of beets and carrots, sow seeds every 3 weeks.

The beet “seed” that is sown is actually a fruit (utricle) that contains multiple embryos (polygerm). These may germinate all at once or at different times and require thinning. Monogerm (single embryo) beet varieties are also available and are used primarily for precision sowing. Carrot seed quality is highly variable as seeds are of different physiological maturities, leading to variability in germination and emergence. Carrot seeds are very small and germination is typically slow. This may lead to non-uniform emergence and poor establishment. Carrot seedlings may not grow well due to soil crusting, adverse temperatures, dry conditions, and weed competition.

The optimum growing temperature for best growth and quality is 55-70 degrees F, at 40 degrees F minimum and 85 degrees F maximum. Beets and carrots can be early spring, late fall, or winter crops, and may even survive winter temperatures, as they are frost tolerant and cold hardy to 20 degrees F. Two to three weeks of temperatures consistently below 50 degrees F will cause poor color development and may trigger bolting. Warmer temperatures may result in limited growth and reduced yields, along with coarse-textured roots.

Table 2. BEET AND CARROT PLANTING GUIDE

Category Direct Seed Outside Dates Spacing (inches) Days to Harvest*
Plants Rows Beds
Beet North LA: Feb-March; Sept 15-Nov 15
South LA: Jan 15-March 15; Aug 15-Nov 15
2-4” Twin rows per bed, 10-12” apart48"50-70
Carrot North LA: Jan 15-March; Aug 15-Oct 15
South LA: Jan 15-March 15; Aug 15-Nov 15
1-3” Twin rows per bed, 10-12” apart48"50-70

*Days from seed to harvest
Note: Table adapted from LSU AgCenter and UF Extension Planting Guides, and Southeastern U.S. Vegetable Production Handbook

Where to Plant

Beet and carrot should be planted in deep, loose, well-drained, fertilized soil with a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.8. Beets, like other members of this family, are tolerant of salinity but are sensitive to soil acidity. Heavy soils may cause carrot roots to split or fork. It is preferable to select a planting area in full sun (at least 6 hours/day) and with silt-loam/sandy loam soil high in organic matter. These crops also tolerate partial shade. It is recommended to till the soil 12-14 inches deep to allow for root growth and to plant beet and carrot in box beds or traditional raised garden rows that are 12 inches tall to ensure good drainage. The soil should be free of debris, clods, and stones in order to ensure uniform emergence and good stand establishment. In all types of gardens, it is recommended to add a layer of compost, peat moss, rotted hay, or other organic matter and mix it into the soil to optimize plant health.

It is recommended to rotate plant families at least every 3-4 years — avoid planting vegetables from the same plant family in the same area of the garden — to reduce disease and pests.

Plant Care

Watering

Beets have a shallow root system and must receive a consistent water supply to keep the roots actively growing and and to prevent them from growing “woody.” Generally, beets should receive at least 1 inch of water per week. Weekly supplemental watering is necessary in dry conditions and/or sandy soils. Carrots have a relatively high water demand and are not drought tolerant; be sure to keep soil moist and use mulch to aid in moisture retention. Water stress will result in “woody” tissue, reduced sugar content, and bitter flavor. Drip irrigation is very helpful to ensure adequate moisture. Generally, carrots should receive 1/2-3/4 inch of water every 4-7 days until carrots develop, and then move to weekly watering of 1 to 2 inches of water per week.

Fertilization

Nitrogen is the most limiting nutrient for beet production. Beets also require high levels of micronutrients, in particular boron (B) and zinc (Zn).  Boron deficiency can result in several physiological disorders like cavity spot and heart rot. Soil testing can help determine fertilizer needs. Carrots have a relatively high uptake of potassium (K), and excessive nitrogen tends to promote foliage growth over root enlargement.

Organic fertilizers such as compost, fish emulsion, composted poultry litter or manure, worm castings, and blood or bone meal originate from living organisms. They are far more environmentally sustainable and safe than traditional synthetic fertilizers. They naturally release nutrients more slowly and over a longer period of time. When applying organic fertilizer, it is important to use in unison with compost, cover crops, and crop rotation, which all work together to build soil health. Learn how to convert inorganic fertilizer recommendations to organic fertilizers here.

Alternatively, a synthetic fertilizer may be used at a rate of about 1.5 pounds (3 cups) of 13-13-13 for every 25 feet of row or 75 square feet. Broadcast or sprinkle evenly over the soil and then mix in about 3-6 inches deep using a rake. Supplemental sidedressing, or reapplication of synthetic fertilizer, is recommended 3-4 weeks later. Sidedressing is the addition of fertilizer to the soil around already established plants when the plant begins to fruit or vine, primarily to provide nitrogen. When using synthetic fertilizer, sprinkle a small amount lightly down the side of the row, keeping it several inches away from plant stems; water into the soil. Because of their slow, steady release of nitrogen, crops fertilized with organic fertilizer do not usually need to be sidedressed, but fish emulsion is a good, quick-release source of nitrogen for sidedressing if needed.

Weeds

Plastic mulch is not recommended for beet and carrot as they are planted very close together. Due to their slow growth and inability to compete well with weeds, it is important to control weeds, especially when plants are young and haven’t developed a shade canopy. Weeding should be done by hand or with careful use of hand tools to avoid damaging seedlings. Weed pressure may be lowered with crop rotation.

Insect Pests and Diseases

Common insect pests include aphids, cutworms, flea beetles, leafhoppers, wireworms, and whiteflies. It is recommended to cover transplants with a row cover to prevent insect pest pressure. There is a lower risk of disease in these crops, but they may be susceptible to some foliar and fungal diseases (e.g., leaf spot, blight) and physiological disorders (black spot). Prevention and regular monitoring can help identify symptoms of these diseases and insect pests to allow for early diagnosis and management. Generally recommended tools for disease prevention include avoiding overhead irrigation; adequate plant spacing; crop rotation; and weed control. See Table 3 to aid in diagnosis and management of some common beet and carrot insect pests and diseases.

Table 3. Organic and Natural Management for Common Beet and Carrot Insect Pests and Diseases

Symptoms Diagnosis Organic and Natural Pest Management
• Curled and yellowed leaves
• Stunted crops
• Sticky honeydew on leaves
Aphids
  • Timely planting and harvest
  • Reduce water stress
  • Weed control
  • Use water jet to dislodge
  • Insect barrier fabric
  • Beneficial insects: lady bugs, lacewings, predatory stink bugs, syrphid flies
  • Insecticidal soap, neem oil, pyrethrin, Azera
• Carrier of aster yellows disease
• Bronzed, mottled leaves
• Yellowed leaves and stems, stunted and twisted
Aster leafhoppers
  • Plant resistant varieties
  • Weed control
  • Floating row covers
  • Remove and destroy infected plants
• Disease spread by leafhoppers
• Pale yellow, fine roots branching off the taproot
• Multiple tops, yellowed leaves
Aster yellows
  • Plant resistant varieties
  • Weed control
  • Prevent leafhoppers
  • Remove and destroy infected plants
• Physiological disorder in beets deficient in boron
• Basic soils high in calcium
• Dry conditions
• Irregular black spots inside roots and on the surface
• Large, dry, black cankers on mature roots
• Dead areas and cavities on roots
Black spot
  • Soil test
  • Broadcast boron at planting if deficient
• Fungal disease
• Wet leaves
• Causes spotty leaf browning or scorch, then leaf death
Blight
  • Plant resistant varieties
  • Crop rotation
  • Remove plant debris and till under remaining residue
  • Avoid overhead irrigation
  • Organic/natural fungicide sprays
• Larvae burrows in roots
• Young plants wilt and die
• Stunted plants
• Carrot roots are forked or disfigured
Carrot rust flies
• Circular lesions with a red-brown border on leaves
• Late season; warm, humid conditions
Cercospora leaf spot
  • Plant resistant varieties
  • Avoid overhead irrigation
  • Avoid working in fields when plants are wet
  • Reduce plant stress
  • Copper-based fungicide sprays
• Seedlings cut off at soil line
• Feeding damage on leaves
• Feed on roots, leaving cavities
Cutworms
  • Weed control
  • Till soil to prevent overwintering
  • Floating row covers
  • Place crushed eggshells, oyster shell, sand, or diatomaceous earth around plant stems
  • Hand-pick and discard larvae
  • Organic pesticides
• Small, irregular holes in leaves
• Concentrated damage in young plants and seedlings
• Stunted plants; reduced yield
Flea beetle
  • Timely planting
  • Perimeter trap cropping
  • Super Light Insect Barrier or AgroFabric Pro to protect seedlings
  • Crop rotation 
  • Reflective mulches
  • Beneficial organisms: parasitic nematodes
  • Insecticidal oil, spinosad, pyrethrin, Azera
• Uneven distribution of stunted plants
• Pale green/yellow leaves; wilt
• Root galls, knots, swellings
Root-knot nematodes
  • Plant resistant varieties
  • Crop rotation with non-host crops (corn)
  • Soil solarization; nematicides
• Feed on roots
• Wet soils; moderate temperature
Wireworms
  • Crop rotation with non-host crops (onion, lettuce, sunflowers); avoid rotations with grasses
  • Control weeds
  • Floating row covers

Note: Table adapted from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension; UMass Extension Vegetable Program; Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities Extension; and University of Maryland Extension. The Louisiana Pesticide Law regulates the use of pesticides in schools to protect children and staff from harmful exposure to chemicals and is enforced by LDAF. The recommended alternative to routine pesticide use is Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which combines pest control, disease management techniques and organic/natural alternatives, many of which are found in this table.

Harvest and Storage

Beets and carrots are harvested when roots reach the expected or desired size. Beet roots are ready for harvest when they reach about 2 inches in diameter (although they will grow larger).  Root size for both is primarily determined by plant spacing, not maturity date, and roots will not grow larger if plants are very closely spaced. For carrots, around the expected maturity date look for carrot shoulders visible at the soil level that are at least 1 inch in diameter. Harvest one carrot to determine if the others are ready to harvest. Younger carrots are more tender and milder in flavor, while older carrots become tough and have a stronger flavor. Generally, beets and carrots are harvested by hand: grab the beet or carrot tops close to the soil line and gradually pull up. For compacted soil and/or older carrots, a garden fork may be used about 6 inches away from the carrots to loosen up the soil and roots for an easier harvest. Beets and carrots harvested with their tops intact may be bunched by the tops. For longer storage, clip off the tops. A common method of preparing carrot tops is making carrot top pesto, and beet greens may be used like Leafy Greens.

At an ideal storage temperature of 32 degrees F with high humidity (98-100%), these crops will store well throughout the fall and winter or for 4-6 months.

Beets can be frozen after cooking and cooling, pickled and canned, or dried or dehydrated for long-term shortage. Beet juice contains betanin, a red pigment that may be used as a natural food colorant in sauce, jams and jellies, desserts, ice cream, and sweets. Carrot juice is a good source of β-carotene and is commonly mixed with other vegetable and fruit juices to provide nutrients, color, or flavor. Carrots may also be juiced, frozen, canned, pickled, dried, or fermented for long-term shortage. Both crops may also be peeled, shredded raw, and then eaten as a salad.

Beets and Carrots Are Nutritious and Good for You

Very high in Vitamin A

Important for eye health, a strong immune system, and cell growth

Rich in Vitamin C, B1, and B2

Important for bones, skin, blood vessels; essential for metabolism and nerve, muscle, and heart health

Good source of dietary fiber

Important for bowel health, lowering cholesterol, controlling blood sugar, and maintaining a healthy weight

Provides calcium

Important for bone health

Recipes

How to prepare beets and carrots (plus recipes)

Video showing how to cut carrots

Taste-testing ideas: beet and carrot salad, tropical beets, roasted beet and carrot, beat and bean salad, carrot soup, beet hummus, carrot fried rice

Other websites with many beet and carrot recipes:

USDA MyPlate Kitchen: Beet, Carrot

SNAP-Ed San Francisco: Beet, Carrot

SNAP-Ed Oregon: Beet, Carrot

Produce for Better Health Foundation: Beet, Carrot

Sources