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Plant Now for a Fall Harvest

September 04, 2002|Emily Green

Pasadena landscape architect Tony Kienitz recommends sowing beets in Southern California anytime from Sept. 15 until July. "It's like the start of spring, in reverse," he says. The only time not to sow them, he says, is the hottest days of August and early September.

Thompson & Morgan has one of the better selections of beet seeds with 10 varieties, including Chioggia, Detroit and Red Ace. (800) 274-7333 or www.thompson-mor

Seeds should be planted 1-inch deep in rows about a foot apart. The seeds are actually flower heads, that may produce from three to seven seedlings, most of which can be harvested for salad greens. As they germinate, they should be thinned to about 3 1/2 to 4 inches apart. Irwin Goldman recommends the Red Ace types for producing the best baby salad greens.

"Monogram" type seeds will produce only one seedling, eliminating the need for thinning, but they have poor germination records.

Beets take 45 to 60 days to mature. Thompson & Morgan horticulturalist Susan Jellinek recommends, as the roots start to emerge, nudging a little mulch over them to prevent them from drying out.

Irrigation will depend on soil type. Soil should be keep pliable and moist during germination. Frequent light watering is suitable in well-prepared soil. A good growing guide is provided by Oregon State University, oregonstate. edu/Dept/NWREC/beetch .html.

Much is made of the danger of beets "bolting" or going to seed before harvest as the plant senses a temperature change. There are even special varieties resistant to bolting, such as "Boltardy."

But bolting is not a problem in California, says Alan Hodgdon, curator of the beet seed collection at the USDA Western Regional Research Plant Introduction Station.

"My problem is trying to make them bolt," he says. He wants the seeds.

In the case of beets, this takes two years. Most beets are biennials. If your plant is that old, then the root will be tough and you'll be best off using it as an ornamental.

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