Beetroot is one of the top ten vegetables in the world on a popularity scale. Its uses are several including in the preparation of food, an ingredient in winemaking and extracts that can be used in food colourants. The biggest importer of beetroot globally is Germany whereas the biggest exporter is the Netherlands.
The botanical name of Beetroot is Beta Vulgaris. It is grown mainly for the root – essentially beetroot comes from the beet plant. Though it is mainly grown for the root, the leaves are also edible; they are a rich source of vitamins. It is a good crop for the export market.
Importance Of Beetroot
Beetroot is a great crop to grow owing to its use in most dishes. It is desired not only for its rich sweet taste but also for its colourant behaviour i.e. it adds colour to food. Options span from eating beetroot raw to pickling it. It is strategic to grow because it does not take that long to reach maturity; anything around 60 days for beetroot to be ready for harvest. Some varieties can be harvested after 90 days. The other great thing about beetroot is that it can be grown at any time during the year.
Beetroot prefers soil pH ranging between 6 and 7. The best soil for beetroot farming is fine and well-drained soil that has no lumps or rocky particles. The ideal soil type is loam soil (sandy one). The addition of manure (humus to be exact) to the soil should only be done if the soil is too clayey. Key to note here is that beetroot does not do well with fresh manure. Otherwise, beetroot requires soil that has an appreciable level of fertility – too much is not good. Soil preparation before sowing should be thorough. Ploughing the soil several times over is necessary to produce the desired soil profile.
When And How To Sow
Before we get on with this you must never forget that seeds should be soaked before sowing. Some can do it for several days but for some hours, 8 hours can suffice. This is central to enhancing the chances of germination and making it quicker too. For you to cover 1 hectare you need around 12 kilograms of beetroot seed. You will find that the ideal time for sowing beetroot varies greatly. This is not cast in stone though as weather conditions depending on location play a part.
When sowing beetroot, make sure that the seeds are 1.5 centimetres deep into the soil. It is fine to make it a little deeper too as deep as 3 centimetres. In-row spacing when sowing should be 7 centimetres and inter-row spacing should be roughly 35 centimetres. It takes on average half a month for the seeds to emerge.
When they have grown for a little while then thinning becomes necessary. The signal for the commencement of thinning is when the seedlings are about 5 centimetres in height. Thinning should leave each plant with adequate clearance around it – a clearance of at least 10 centimetres. All these processes are meant to ensure the plants grow unhindered. Tight spacing inhibits the growth of the root tubers thus ending up very small in size.
Harvesting beetroot is imminent around 60 days from sowing. You can also factor in the height of the plants to tell whether they are ready or not. Typically a beetroot plant that is ready for harvesting stands at 90 centimetres tall. The other thing to look at it is the size of the beetroot – 3 centimetres in diameter is a sure sign they are ready for harvest. Beetroot should be harvested when they are still tender. The aforementioned conditions are at that point when beetroot is still appropriately tender. Any delay in harvesting them will cause them to become too hard which will not be favourable for consumption.
The harvesting process is simple and straightforward. For a small scale, this can be done by hand by digging out the beetroot using handheld implements. This is done with caution to ensure the beetroot does not get damaged in the process. Lacerations or any form of damage on the beetroot compromise its ability to stay fresh.
Important Factors To Consider
Earlier I pointed out that beetroot can be grown at any time of year. However, bear in mind that beetroot is more given over to cool conditions. The optimum temperatures for beetroot to grow well span from 15 degrees Celsius to 20 degrees Celsius. Generally, beetroot can thrive in virtually in any weather – cool conditions are the best though. Extremities are not ideal for beetroot i.e. too cold and too hot. Water is crucially important for beetroot farming especially just after sowing. However, it is vital that you maintain balance – not too much and not too little. In areas where the weather is typically dry, you can water every 2 weeks, on average.
The Best Beetroot Varieties To Choose
There are several beetroot varieties to choose from. Some of the most common varieties are Chioggia, Early Wonder, Formanova, Crimson Globe, Bolder, Avalanche and Detroit Dark Red. One of the major distinguishing factors amongst these varieties is the colour (the shape too). Other varieties to consider are Osprey and Merlin.
Disease, weed, and pest control should not be overlooked from the onset. Some of the commonly associated pests are mites, nematodes, and aphids, just to mention a few. Common diseases are Downey Mildew and Scab, amongst others. These can hurt yields so they must be kept in check.
If all is done well you can realize roughly 25 tonnes of beetroot per hectare. On average you would require US$7500 for everything needed to grow and harvest 1 hectare of beetroot. Global average export price per tonne of beetroot is US$680. All things being equal you should realize a profit of around US$9500 per hectare.
Beetroot is a great crop to grow in Zimbabwe and very rewarding to export as well. You can check with Zimtrade for more information on export markets and licensing processes.