The beet, loving cooler weather as it does, is cold-hardy, takes up little space in your garden plot, and serves as a nutrient-rich vegetable on your table. And one of the most iconic parts of this vegetable is the deep, rich red color it adds to your meal – most of the time. Occasionally, you may find your beetroot is white instead of the expected red.
Your beetroot is white due to genetic or environmental factors, such as soil with inadequate nitrogen content. If the beet is genetically predisposed to a white color instead of red, there’s nothing you can do about that.
Since white beets are just as edible as red ones (and are often sweeter), there’s no great crisis when your beetroot comes in white. However, it can raise questions when you have a single white beet appear from out of nowhere among your rows of red ones. Let’s take a look at why this may happen in further detail.
Why Your Beetroot Comes in White
There are a few reasons why your beetroot is white. Some reasons you can do something about, and some you can’t. If there’s a genetic component, you won’t be able to do much about that.
Common reasons your beetroot is white include:
- Seed mixing
- The rules of Mendelian genetics
- Poor soil
- Not enough water
Despite what you know or don’t know about genetics and DNA, you probably already understand that if a seed’s genes tell it to grow into a white beet, you can’t do much to stop that. We’ll discuss this in more detail in a bit.
Until then, let’s examine these causes individually.
This is, perhaps, the simples reason your beets may come in white.
Most of us don’t like to think that we make such a simple mistake – but it happens to the best of us. The fact is, there’s a good chance you’ve encountered a stray seed in the wrong package – and you may not always spot it.
For example, if you have a packet of zinnia seeds and find a pumpkin seed in there, that’s easy to spot since zinnia seeds are dark and tiny and pumpkin seeds are pale and much bigger. However, if you picked up a handful of random beet seeds, you’d be hard-pressed to figure out which seeds grow into which varieties because they look so similar.
So if you have a pile of Beta vulgaris beet seeds with one or two Avalanche seeds mixed in, those Avalanche seeds will grow some nice, mild, white beets right in the middle of all your red beets.
The good news is that white beets are edible and won’t damage the surrounding red beets in your plot. After all, they’re not weeds – they’re simply another strain of beet.
The Rules of Mendelian Genetics
Most of the vegetables we eat today and that many gardeners grow have been genetically manipulated in some way. We’re not talking about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), as they haven’t been modified in laboratory settings.
But we have, throughout human civilization, learned to breed plants and animals and select the characteristics we prize. This is why hunting dogs are innately good at hunting, and carrots are long and orange.
Gregor Mendel, a 19th-century monk, studied pea plants to show how their traits got passed on to their offspring. From his work, we now understand the idea of recessive and dominant genes. Here’s how it works (a simplified version of it, at least).
A beet plant with two red genes, when crossed with a beet plant with one red and one white gene, will produce red beets. However, as the parents share a pool of four total genes from which their offspring receive two, some may receive a white gene.
These beets will, as mentioned, be red beets. This is because the color red is the dominant gene of the two. However, there will be a few beets with a non-expressed white gene.
When these offspring cross with other beets with a non-expressed white gene, the subsequent offspring have the chance of inheriting two white genes. Without a red gene to be dominant, the plant would then grow into white beet.
This theory also explains why kale occasionally comes up prickly without any prior warning.
When genetics are the culprit, that’s hard to overcome. If your beets are coming up white and you think this is the reason, there’s little you can about it but celebrate your garden’s diversity.
Sometimes, as your beets struggle in bad soil, they can lose some color. “Bad soil” can mean a few things, so it’s difficult to give one sweeping answer to your white beetroot problem if the color changes stem from this issue.
However, the main issue regarding soil is that it’s often not sandy enough. Hard clay is terrible for your beets, too, but your beets need sandy, well-drained soil.
Sandy soil that’s not too acidic is perfect for your beets. If your red beets are in good soil and coming up white, look elsewhere for a reason. But if you suspect your soil might be too acidic or deficient in nitrogen, address those issues and see if the red returns.
For nitrogen deficiency, simple nitrogen fertilizer will more than suffice.
It’s also worth noting that if your soil crusts over from the heat and drying out, it can also cause the growth during those periods to come in white. If your soil crusts over during growing time, but then you remedy it before harvest, you’ll find a layer of white inside your beet that will reflect that time.
Not Enough Water
While you want soil that’s more sandy than clay, if it’s too sandy, water may drain too quickly out of it. This is essential to consider because, even if you water enough, if it drains before the beets can get what they need from that watering, you’ll still have under-watered plants. And a poorly watered beet may come in paler or even white.
Finding the right amount of water for your beets is tricky. Generally, experts recommend that beets get at least one inch (2.54 cm) of water per week. However, that could be too much if your soil isn’t well-drained.
So, it’s best to pay attention to the soil, how moist it is, and how far down that moisture goes. This will give you a more accurate picture of how much water your beets need than if you just say, “It’s Monday, so I’ve got to water the beets.”
If you had a gully-washer of a rainstorm on Sunday night, Monday watering is contraindicated.
Types of Beets
An earlier mention of genetics may have made you wonder how a beet gets a white gene. It’s because beets come in more colors than just red.
- Avalanche. As mentioned earlier, the Avalanche is very white inside. There’s no mistaking this one. You won’t cut one of these open and wonder if it’s just a really pale red – it looks visibly white, and you won’t mistake it for a pale version of another color.
- Chioggia. These beets have white in them, but it’s striped with red. Because of this, it’s often called a candy-stripe beet.
- Detroit Dark Red. One of many kinds of red beets, this particular beet has been around since 1892, so it’s an established vegetable. Fun fact: the Detroit Dark Red is often mistaken for a turnip.
- Golden. It’s all in the name for this one. Yellow beets have a milder flavor.
- Golden Detroit. Another golden, this particular beet eschews the underlying bitterness you might find in a Golden.
- Moulin Rouge. How could this one be anything but a red beet, right? Despite the name, it’s almost purple – closer to purple than most beets.
- Touchstone Gold. “Gold” can be misleading here, as the outsides of these beets are orange. It’s not until you cut them open that you find the yellow flesh inside.
- White Detroit. This beet’s claim to fame is that it tastes much like a red beet, but if you spill it on yourself, it won’t permanently stain your shirt.
White beetroots don’t mean you suddenly lack a green thumb. These things happen, and, as mentioned, you may have a beet genetically predetermined to be white no matter your actions.
Your beetroot may be white if there’s a stray seed with your reds or if a seed expresses a recessive gene. There’s nothing you can do but pull out the beet (but we don’t recommend this – they’re perfectly edible).
If this isn’t the case, you may be dealing with inadequate water or poor soil. Monitoring moisture levels in your garden will help, as will balancing your soil if necessary.