Beetroot farming in Kenya has become more popular recently.It is very easy to grow, requires little attention, and the season is long. It has a rich earthy flavour and vibrant colour and is delicious either in salads, or as a cooked vegetable.

Beetroot is relatively straight forwards to grow and accordingly it is very popular, with a unique flavor and color to add to salads and juice. Beetroot is biennial which is grown like an annual vegetable which should be grown in damp areas. Once the beetroot is ready, harvest by lifting the leaves then cut them off, and store on a damp newspaper. The beetroot should then keep for 2 to 3 months. It has a wide variety of uses in the kitchen which means that you are unlikely to waste any of it. It can be used in soups, salads and chutneys and also juice, it is also good served as a hot vegetable, and the high sugar content means that it can be used as a good base for home made wine.

Beetroot juice is extracted from raw beetroot and is rich in potassium, magnesium and vitamin c, it is a known fact that drinking beetroot juice helps in lowering blood pressure, as much as beetroot has its health benefits it also has some side effects let’s look at the health benefits -it rich in antioxidants and nitrates which helps in lowering high blood pressure and also improves blood circulation -increases muscle strength -it destroys free radicals in the body, preventing cell damage -very beneficial to people who are anemic

The benefits are quite a number but some people might react to it (suffer side effects) the best way to take beetroot juice and reduce the possibility of side effects is to dilute it with water or vegetables or other fruit juice. Beetroot juice has very strong and earthy flavor, it is best consumed by mixing with other vegetables and fruit juices.

The best fruits and vegetables to dilute with are apples, carrots, pineapples, cucumber ( p.s pregnant women should consult the doctor before drinking beetroot juice.

Now to the side effects – Allergic reaction This includes rashes, itchiness, breaking out in hives, chills and fever. Most side effects are common. – Diarrhea (in some people) – Beeturia – Kidney stones

Beetroot Farming in Kenya Guide

Planting Beetroot: Beetroot seeds are wonderful little things that are actually small clusters of several true ‘seeds’, which is why you often get several seedlings popping up right next to each other. Beetroot takes around 3 months from seed to harvest and can be started outdoors as early as April. This makes successional sowing, and with it a constant supply of lovely red globes, possible for many months. Sow the seeds about 5cm (2in) apart in rows, leaving about 25cm (10in) between rows. Plant the seeds about 2cm (¾in) deep and give them a good watering. The closer the plants, the smaller the beets will be. Planting a few new seeds every 2 weeks will give you a good supply throughout the summer and into autumn.

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Looking after the Plants: Beetroots require very little plant care. Just keep the area as weed free as your time permits and watch the red globes expand! Remember the leaves are edible, so when you thin your seedlings out, keep the leaves to add to a salad.

Water your beetroot in very dry weather, as dryness can lead to woodiness. Do not water too heavily, otherwise the roots might split.

Growing Beetroot in Containers: Beetroot can also be grown in pots and containers. Choose the round varieties of beetroot rather than the cyclindrical types. Choose a large pot, at least 30cm (12in) in diameter. Put some stones, or broken crocks in the bottom to aid drainage. Fill the pot with soil. If your soil is very heavy then add some sand. Sow your seeds on top and then cover with a thin layer of compost, and water well. Beetroot grown in pots and containers will need frequent watering as they grow. Be careful not to overwater though.

Commercially Growing Beetroot

Beetroot can be planted any time of the year. However, if you plant beetroot during the summer, it can reduce the quality of the roots. The ideal temperature for seed germination is 4.5 to 30˚C. Take note of the seeding rate and it should be 3 to 5 kg/ha but this should be based on the needed crop density. Sow the seeds at 1.2 to 2.5 cm deep and each plant should be 60 to 70 cm apart. It’s up to you to plant them in single rows or double rows. For commercial beetroot farming, you can also grow then in multiple rows. Center spacing should be at 1.5 to 1.8 meters.

Every bed can consist of 3 to 5 rows that are 30 cm apart. Feed the plants properly with fertilizer to get the needed nutrition. You can drill down the fertilizer on the sides of the plant or you can also cultivate them. Learn the ways to control weeds, insects, and diseases. You may need to consider buying harvesting machines so that the task can be finished in no time. The harvested beetroots will be processed. You can expect about 35 tons/ha in terms of yields.

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Beetroot Varieties in Kenya 

  1. Bolthardy – good flavour, smooth skinned round roots, good bolt resistance, good for early sowing, RHS Award of Garden Merit
  2. Detroit 6 Rubidus – bolt resistant, early cropping, smooth round firm roots
  3. Chioggia Pink – beautiful red and white rings inside, round roots, sweet and tender
  4. Cylindra – dark crimson cylindrical roots, late season, bolt resistant, excellent for storage
  5. Burpee’s Golden – good flavoured round roots, tops can be eaten like spinach, yellow coloured roots

Harvesting and Storing Beetroot

Harvesting generally starts when the globes are about 5cm (2in) in diameter, about golf-ball size. If you want larger globes, thin the rows as they grow to give the remaining ones more space. We tend to pick ours on the smaller side as they are more tender. This is one of the joys of home grown vegetables, you can pick them when they taste their best rather than achieving their maximum weight or size for selling in shops.

Storing Beetroot

The best way to store beetroot in their natural form is by lifting them and storing them in boxes. To do this, lift the roots carefully and cut off the foliage, leaving about 5cm (2in). Only undamaged roots will be suitable for storing, so remove any with visible damage. Pop the good ones in boxes that contain a moist medium, such as sand or leafmould. If your box is deep you might be able to get several layers per box. The trick to successful storage is to keep them in a cool, but frost free, environment such as a garage or shed.

If you’ve still got too many, then leave some to overwinter. The roots won’t be any good for harvesting but you will have delicious beetroot leaves to eat come the following spring.

Pickling Beetroot

The other way to store beetroot is by pickling them and storing them in jars. Pickling beetroot is very easy. Clean your beetroot, leaving a little of the stalk attached (to stop the juices running out), and then either boil or bake your beetroot. Boiling will take between 30-40 minutes depending on their size. If baking, wrap in foil either individually or all together and bake at 180ºC for about 1 hour.

Whilst the beetroot are cooking, prepare the vinegar. What you put into the vinegar is up to you. Go with the flavours that you enjoy. You can add peppercorns, coriander seeds, whole cloves, bay leaves, fresh ginger, mustard seeds, chilli, whatever you fancy. If you want a sweet pickle, then add some sugar. Simmer your vinegar (malt or wine) with the spices and sugar, if using, for about 10 minutes.

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Once the beetroot are cooked, remove their skins and slice or dice however you like them. The thinner the slices, the more vinegary they will get. Place in a sterilized jar, cover completely with the hot vinegar mixture and seal immediately. Label and date your jars when cool. Leave for a few weeks for the flavours to infuse. The pickle should last a year at least.

Pests, Diseases and Problems affecting beetroot farming in Kenya

Beetroot is one of those wonderful crops that tends to be relatively trouble free. Birds may have a go at the seedlings, in which case you can cover them with horticultural fleece until they are larger and less appealing to our feathered friends.

  1. Bolting may be a problem. This is where the plant flowers before the roots have formed. This can occur in dry conditions, or if thinning has been left too late. If you have trouble with bolting, then try growing a bolt resistant variety such as Bolthardy.
  2. Aphids may attack the leaves causing them to curl over. We find squashing them between your fingers the most effective way of getting rid of them, particularly if there are not too many. Otherwise, you can spray the leaves with horticultural soap, or a weak solution of washing up liquid such as Ecover.
  3. Fungal Leaf Spot sometimes affects beetroot. This appears as round brown spots on the leaves. The middle of the spots sometimes fall out to leave holes. This is not usually very serious. Just remove any badly affected leaves, and remove all fallen leaves at the end of the season to reduce the number of overwintering fungal spores.

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