Saturday, 29 June 2013

Modular sown beetroot

I confess that I have had mixed results with beetroot over the years. Sometimes it is to do with the weather at sowing, occasionally I will admit that the seed has not been fresh. But as someone who has a fondness for beetroot as a vegetable it really wasn't good enough.
A couple of years ago I decided to stop sowing the seed direct and try raising the plants in modules and this has given more consistent results.

Beetroot is an amenable vegetable in that it does not need to be sown in any particular rotation group but can be slotted in to a planting plan wherever space allows.
The individual seeds are in fact a cluster of seeds, so one seed can produce a number of individual seedlings. It therefore means that one seed per module will result in either 1, 2 or more seedlings per module. I don't bother separating them at planting. As long as there are fewer than four they will push each other apart and usually have enough space to grow to a good size.

This year I sowed 4 x 12 cell trays at the end of March in the greenhouse as the weather was very cold then. Once they had germinated they got moved to the polytunnel. There they got rather forgotten about as other plants and the nursery stock demanded attention. Once space became available in the polytunnel bed I planted one of the trays out, nestled between spinach rows. I confess they got rather overshadowed by the spinach and must have taken a deep breath when it was removed and they could see the light again. Progress here was, and remains, slow.

In early May, in a fit of desperation that we would ever get weather suitable for planting outside, I turned to my trusted fish boxes in the other polytunnel and filled them with lovely compost from one of the compost bins. I then planted out one of the other trays, and pushed in some more beetroot seed in between the young beetroot plants. Here progress has been rapid. The beetroot have grown enormous healthy leaves and beneath are lovely round beet. They are close to harvesting and the seed is coming on fast too. They have obviously really enjoyed the rich moist growing conditions and the heat of the polytunnel.

Whilst I was weeding the chickweed from the outside planted beetroot, finally put in around mid-May, the advantages of modular sown beetroot really became clear.
It was so easy to weed around them, no need to thin, they were significantly ahead of the chickweed and well rooted so there wasn't the fear that I would inadvertently pull them out when weeding. In addition they were coming on well, much better than they would have been if I had waited for the weather to sow them direct.

The final advantage is that I can sow another batch to follow on from the autumn sown onions when they are harvested shortly from the polytunnel bed. But I think I will take a lesson from my fish box beetroot and make sure I enrich the bed with some more of my lovely compost before I plant them.