The distance between plants in the row should be governed by the variety and the size of beets desired for market. In planting small-topped varieties, to be sold when the roots are 1« to 2 inches in diameter, 2 or 3 inches apart in the row will be sufficient space. The larger-rooted varieties which are permitted to grow to maturity should be spaced 5 or 6 inches apart.
Some growers prefer to sow thickly, especially in the early spring. This may be done for several purposes, viz., (1) to insure a good stand of plants, (2) to make certain of enough plants, even if the first to germinate should be killed by frost, (3) to provide a surplus for transplanting, (4) to provide a surplus for greens.
Thinning is very generally practiced in beet culture. The best plan is to attend to this work before the plants are injured by crowding. Many growers, however, prefer to wait until the plants are 6 to 8 inches high, when the ones removed are used for greens.
Ten seeds to the foot of furrow, or 1 ounce to 75 or 100 feet of drill (5 to 7 pounds an acre), should insure a perfect stand. One inch of covering is sufficient in moist soils. The seeds may be sown with a drill, although their angular form is not conducive to uniform distribution. Drills with effective agitators are best adapted to this seed. It is important that the soil be firmed well by the wheel of the drill or by other means. This is especially necessary when there is lack of soil moisture. Beet seeds do not germinate as promptly as many other garden seeds, and a few radish seeds are sometimes sown with them to mark the rows so cultivation may begin early.
Beets do not transplant as readily as many other vegetables, but it is common to reset the thinned plants and to sow under glass, and then set the plants in the open when conditions are favorable. If advantage is taken of a moist soil and of cool, cloudy weather, the operation will be satisfactory. When the work is properly managed there is a gain of possibly two weeks in time of maturity over sowings made in the open. The seed may be sown four or five weeks before the time of plant ing in the field.
Beets must grow rapidly to mature early and to develop the highest quality. To accomplish these purposes there must be an ample supply of soluble plant food, especially of nitrogen Fresh or green stable manures should never be applied a short time before planting, because they encourage a rank growth of top at the sacrifice of root; but rotten cow and horse manure may be used freely. Henderson recommends 75 to 100 tons an acre, while more recent intensive growers use 40 to 50 tons an acre. Some succeed with half this quantity, supplementing with commercial fertilizers. From 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of a high-grade fertilizer can generally be applied at a profit, with an additional top dressing of nitrate of soda. The New Jersey Station found as much as 800 pounds of nitrate an acre could be profitably used during the season. At each application 100 to 200 pounds may be used by distributing along the rows or sowing broadcast when the leaves are dry. The first and largest application should be made in about three weeks from sowing, making additional dressings as may seem necessary.
Thorough tillage is essential to large yields and high quality. The beet is a surface feeder, so that shallow cultivation should be practiced. The Garrahan hand weeder is a valuable tool for weeding and thinning beets when the discarded plants are not to be reset.
Early beets are usually sold on local markets before they have attained full size, because the market accepts a small tender beet, and the grower desires to clear the land as soon as possible for some other crop. A few days' delay often makes a great difference in market prices, and growers for local markets find that it usually pays to dispose of the small beets as soon as dealers will take them.
The early beets are tied in bunches of three to ten, depending upon size and market requirements (See Figure 64). Washing is usually done after bunching. Bunched beets are shipped from the South in cabbage crates or other convenient, well-ventilated packages.
When prices decline, beets are sold in bulk, the tops being cut about an inch from the crown and the roots packed in baskets, boxes or crates, and barrels.
In sandy soils beets are easily pulled by hand; in heavy land a one-horse plow can be used to advantage in this work.
Yields and returns are variable. A yield of 300 to 400 bushels an acre is considered good for garden beets, although larger crops have been harvested. Gross receipts range from $200 to $600 an acre.
Although about 200 species of insects feed upon the beet, most of them are unimportant. Flea beetles are the most destructive pests. Bordeaux mixture is the best-known deterrent for these insects. Paris green and arsenate of lead may also be used as poisons for flea beetles.
Fig. 64. Beets Bunched For Market.
Leaf Spot (Cercospora beti-cola) is a destructive disease to sugar beets, but it seldom does much damage to the garden type. Potato scab (Oospora scabies) also attacks the various types of beets, and is often a serious disease of garden varieties. To secure roots free of the scab, seeds must be planted in soil free from the fungus. Rotation is necessary to escape this disease.