How to grow beetroot, and preparing garden beds for planting

Growing beetroot
  • You can grow beetroot in different ways: sow the seeds directly into your garden bed, sow seeds into a seed tray and transplant them, or buy seedlings and plant those.
  • Sowing beetroot seeds directly into the soil has the advantage of being economical and you can plant a big crop. The disadvantage is that in wet weather the seeds can rot in the ground.
  • Prepare your soil before sowing and planting. Apply fertiliser that’s high in phosphorus and potassium and low in nitrogen. Nitrogen stimulates leaf growth at the expense of the bulb. Rob uses volcanic rock dust (N-2, P-5, K-3), but if you can’t access this then use bonemeal, banana skins or ash from the fireplace.
  • With your hand or the end of the hoe create a shallow trench. Sprinkle in seeds then cover with around a centimetre of soil (beetroot seeds are quite big so can be sown relatively deeply), pat down and water lightly. When the seedlings reach around 5 centimetres in height you can thin them out, or alternatively leave them longer and use the leaves of the thinned beetroot in salads.
  • Sowing beetroot seeds into a seed tray, then transplanting them into the soil guarantees a better strike rate. See here for how to sow seeds in a seed tray. See here for how to transplant seedlings into a punnet. You want to use a 6-section punnet for beetroot because the seedlings don’t want any more root disturbance from this point on.
  • You can transplant little seedlings (2-3 centimetres high) from the seed tray directly into the garden. Make sure your seed tray is dry so the soil falls off the roots easily. Make a trench as for the seeds, then plant the little seedlings into the trench about 5 centimetres apart, holding them from the leaf and making sure you don’t touch the roots. Bed in well and water lightly.
  • Planting bought beetroot seedlings is ideal for people who don’t want a big crop and/or want the produce quickly. Make holes using a dibber (or similar) and plant the seedlings about 5-8 centimetres apart, taking care not to disturb the roots. Water in well.
Preparing garden beds for planting (with a focus on tomato beds)
  • In three weeks’ time we’re going to plant out our tomato plants, so now’s the time to prepare the garden bed.
  • It’s a good idea to test the pH level (acidity or alkalinity) of your soil with a pH soil testing kit, available at garden centres and hardware stores.
  • To test the soil, take a scoop from 5 centimetres beneath the soil surface. Dry it out and take the chunky pieces out. Put 1 centimetre of soil into the testing tube, add the suggested amount of barium sulphate, then fill to 2.5 centimetres with the pH testing solution. Give it a good shake and leave for 10 minutes. Check out the chart supplied – dark red means Very Acid and dark green means Alkaline.
  • Ideally most garden beds will be between 5.5 and 7 on the pH scale. But every vegetable prefers a different pH level, so check the chart included.
  • Tomatoes need loads of calcium in the soil to grow well. So if your pH reading is Acid or Very Acid you’ll need to add Garden Lime to your bed. If your pH reading is Neutral or Alkaline, then you should add Gypsum (calcium sulphate). Gypsum adds calcium to the soil but doesn’t affect the pH level. Gypsum also opens the particles in the soil providing better drainage and therefore works well on clay soils.
  • Rob’s soil is Neutral, around 7 on the pH scale, and tomatoes like it from 5.5 – 7.5, so he’s going to add compost to his bed to lower the alkalinity.


Camera: Jarod Murray
Editor: Thomas Asche
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