Beets are a highly underrated root vegetable. They can be stewed, sauteed, eaten like apples, or even blended into a highly nutritious juice. However, because backyard gardeners rarely grow them, you may be wondering how to store and harvest your beets best.
Beets can stay in the ground for 1 to 2 weeks after they’re ready to pull. If you leave them in the spot they grew longer than that, they’ll spoil. Some farmers use the root cellar method to keep their beets fresh for longer, but this requires creating a separate space with sand or peat moss.
It’s not uncommon for seasoned gardeners to suggest leaving your beets in the ground after the harvest to store. However, this isn’t the full story of keeping your beets fresh. Below, I’ll describe what “staying in the ground” might look like for your freshest beet harvest.
Knowing When to Pull Your Beets
Of course, technically, you can keep your beets in the ground forever. Even if they rot and decompose, they’ll nourish the soil for next year’s crop. However, for this article, I’m assuming you’re curious about how long beets can stay in the ground if you intend to harvest and eat them later.
Your beets usually grow within three to eight weeks of being planted. This is a little shy of a month or two months long.
Your beets can safely stay in the ground for the duration of their growing cycle, and the real timeline of picking begins when they’re ripe. Some farmers would just leave the beets in the ground before harvesting.
Knowing when to pull your beets depends on what you plan to do next. As discussed below, there are a few options for storage after you harvest.
You can store your beets in any of the following ways:
- In the ground for one to two weeks, though they’ll become woodier the longer they stay
- In a root cellar for three months or more
- On the counter for three days
- In your fridge for two weeks
Your intentions will determine when to pull. If you plan on leaving them in the ground, you’ll just count down the days since they became ripe.
However, if you want to store them in the root cellar, counter, or fridge, you’ll need to pull them as soon as they become ripe and use them by the periods indicated above. Otherwise, they’ll decompose and be unfit for consumption.
If you want your beets to last as long as possible, you might as well use the root cellar method. However, if your intention is the least work possible, leaving them in the ground will be fine.
Just know that the longer you leave them, the more woody they will get and the harder they will be to eat. The taste will change significantly, and after those few weeks are up, they may begin to spoil in the ground.
Signs of Ripeness
Typically, your beets are ready to harvest between seven and eight weeks after being put into the ground.
You’ll look at the tops of your beets as much as you’ll look at the size of the root (which, in the case of the beet, is the big bulb). The bulb should be from 1 – 3 inches (2.54 to 7.62 centimeters) in diameter.
Unlike onions, whose tops fall over when ready to be pulled, beet tops shouldn’t be falling. If they do, it may mean they aren’t getting enough direct sunlight.
Then, you get to decide what you want to do next. You can leave your beets in the ground for the next two weeks before eating them, store them in your root cellar, or put them directly into your fridge. Pull them up gently once you decide.
How to Store Your Beets the Old Fashioned Way
If you’ve come looking for answers because someone has told you it’s best to keep your beets in the ground where they grew or underground in a root cellar for storage, you’ve come to the right place.
The practice of storing root crops underground is pretty common, as many people still do the same. In the past, farmers kept their beets underground by storing them in a root cellar.
A root cellar (also called an “earth cellar” in British English) is a large structure that you could compare to a pantry. However, this pantry is rooted in the earth. You also wouldn’t store your potato chips here, though you’d likely store your potatoes.
Root cellars were used to prevent food from getting too cold or from over-ripening in the winter.
Check out this video on root cellars to learn more:
You can also build your root cellar if you’re serious about keeping your carrots, beets, onions, potatoes, garlic, and other root crops safe from winter cold or summer heat the old-fashioned way.
Modern Day Root Cellars
So when someone told you to keep your beets underground if you want them to last longer, they didn’t expect you to purchase land with a hilly spot to create your root cellar.
These days, many gardeners and farmers use buckets as a make-shift root cellar. You can fill this bucket with peaty sand or even sawdust and then add your beets, attaching the lid loosely so air can still flow.
This video will show you how to make your own root cellar easily and without breaking the bank:
So, in this case, your beets can be stored for up to three months “in the ground” using your root cellar.
Storing Beets in Your House
Beets will need a cool, dry, dark place for storage. A produce bag in your refrigerator will keep them fresh for two weeks, but they’ll only last a few days if you leave them on the counter.
To avoid the risk of your beet drying up or becoming woodier in the soil, instead of leaving them on the ground, you can pull them and directly store them in your house. Decide where to put them depending on how soon you intend to consume them.
What Happens if You Leave Beets in the Ground Too Long?
So what happens if you do decide to go the “store-in-ground” route? You might be wondering if there are any consequences for pulling too late or too soon. The main idea is to get the beets in a cool area when ready to eat and not leave them out in the sun.
Leaving your beets in the ground too long might expose them to excessive heat and cause them to ripen at a different rate than intended. Like onions and carrots, sometimes the “curing” process can be sped up by high temperatures, making your beets rot quicker. They also may taste more woody or bitter.
You can keep your beets underground for one to two weeks without huge consequences unless you’re having a huge heatwave. In general, “in the ground” is cooler than above ground, so beet farmers will keep their beets below the dirt. Otherwise, they’ll overheat.
If you’ve noticed your soil temperature rising, it’d be safer to pull out your beets and put them elsewhere.
You don’t need to utilize extra fridge space to store your beets if your soil temperature is still pretty cool. However, leaving them in the ground is a simple and no-fuss way to store them.
Just know that the more you leave them underground, the more bitter and woody they may get. If you’re watering a lot and they’re already harvestable, you also risk molding or turning the soil compact with the excess water.
If you’re serious about your beet farming, it may be time to look into a root cellar. Backyard farmers, homesteaders, and vegetable gardeners store their root vegetables in these cellars on a small scale.
Bigger-scale root cellars would be a great way to store your beet crops if you have more than you can handle or are interested in keeping them around in the winter season.
Can You Keep Your Beets in the Ground All Winter?
So what happens if you grew a beet crop, took a bite of your first ripe beet, and decided you didn’t like beets? Or, what if you just want to leave them in the ground over the winter instead of pulling them up? Whatever your motivations, don’t worry about laboring over each of your beets.
You can keep your beets in the ground all winter, but they won’t stay fresh. In the cold, they’ll likely rot, but their nutrients will be recycled into your soil. If you want to eat your beets, it would be best if you pulled them from the ground.
If you’ve grown a crop of beets and decided they aren’t for you but don’t want to do any digging, there’s no harm in leaving them in the ground. You can keep them in the ground to help add nutrients to your soil.
However, you could also do this by mulching, composting, or fertilizing. Just know some critters might try to get to them, and you might have some beets to dispose of come next growing season. If you’re more interested in growing winter beets, you’ll have to start this at the beginning of your process.
Your beets can stay in the ground anywhere from one week to three months, depending on what “underground” means for you. Most farmers and backyard beet growers have a separate underground storage called a root cellar, where they’ll store their beets. This method keeps the beets fresh for longer.
However, if you want to keep things simple, storing your beets in the ground for one to two weeks is okay, too. If you do this, you might as well pull them and put them into the fridge, though. Beets stay ripe in the crisper drawer for around two weeks.