Beetroot, chard and leaf beet

Beetroot, leaf beet/perpetual spinach, swiss chard & sugar beet are all members of the same family & will cross readily. They are biennial, and flower in their second year. Chard/leaf beet for seed, are overwintered in situ, and will be fine in most of the UK. Select a minimum of six to eight plants to leave for seed which best fit your needs (depending on your preference for stem versus leaf, smooth or wrinkled leaves etc). Beetroot can also be overwintered in situ, or can be harvested in autumn, the best plants selected and stored then replanted in spring.

All types of beet will cross with one another, and since the flowers are wind pollinated, crossing can take place with any other flowering beet plants within around 2 miles. How fussy you need to be about crossing depends on what you are trying to achieve. If you simply want a reasonably diverse population of leaf beet, a degree of crossing is not that important. Plant your seed plants closely together in a square, and take seed from the central plants in the block; you will find that the amount of 'contamination' is minimal providing there aren't large numbers of other flowering beets right next door.

If you are aiming to keep a variety true to type you need to isolate it, usually by physically covering your seed plants. To do this, plant at least six plants very close together in a circle, with a wooden stake in the middle. As the seed stalks form growing up to four feet tall, tie them together, supported by the stake. Then as they develop cover the group of flower heads with either a shiny paper bag that will withstand rain, or a bag made out of agricultural fleece. Shake the bag from time to time to make sure that pollen is distributed within the bag.

As the large, prickly seeds mature, keep an eye on them, and start to harvest as they turn brown and start to dry out. You can either cut entire seed stalks, or harvest mature seeds by rubbing them into a bucket. Make sure that the seeds are thoroughly dry before storage, and they should last at least five years. More information on seed drying can be found under our ‘Seed Cleaning and Drying’ section on our website.