How to Grow Sugar Beets to Make Sugar

Gardening is fun for children of all ages. Have a great time by growing sugar beets and then harvesting them to make your own sugar. It will be a great lesson about growing your own food and seeing that vegetables are made into sugar.


Sugar Beets, Saccherifera Variety, (Beta vulgaris)

Photo by: Wally Eberhart

Wally Eberhart

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Botanical Names: Beta vulgaris

Sugar Beets look more like a turnip than a beet. Their coloring is off-white and conical in root structure. About 20% of the world’s sugar production is from sugar beets and the other 80% coming from sugarcane. The sucralose level is extremely high and most people do not eat these beets as they would with the yellow, red, or white varieties. Sugar beets are typically only grown as a commercial crop. However, growing your own sugar beets would be a great project for children of all ages as the greens could be used like spinach or Swiss chard and the root could be used to produce sugar- teaching on multiple different levels about gardening and food.

Sugar beets are grown by seeds. Finding seeds can be somewhat of a challenge and typically it is easiest to purchase them online as finding them in a store can be impossible. If you have ever grown heirloom beets, the process will be very similar. Beets are considered a cool season crop, which can tolerate frost. Seeds shouldn’t be planted until your soil temperature reaches at least 50 degrees. Beets like full sun, which means 6 to 8 hours of UV light. Before planting, soak seeds for 24 hours. After that time, seeds may either be planted directly to the garden or in small containers to get them started. I find the latter more useful, as it gets the seeds established without birds devouring the seeds and I can plant only those seeds that have sprouted. If grown in a greenhouse or started indoors, make sure to plant once the leaves emerge. Beets can tolerate poor soil conditions, but they perform best when the soil pH 6.0 to 6.5. Finding out your soil pH can be done by calling your local extension office or buying a meter at your favorite home and garden store. When sowing your sugar beet seeds, do so at a depth of ¾ to 1 ½ inches deep. Space seeds out to 1 to 2 inches and rows 3 to 5 inches. Eventually, space between seeds will need to be thinned out to 10 to 12 inches apart from one another and rows will need to be 18 to 24 inches giving the beets enough space to grow. Those immature beets that are harvested can be a great topping to raw salads or roasted like baby carrots. Sugar beets will typically get to their mature grow at 90 to 95 days. At which time, they will need to be harvested. Harvesting can be done with a fork or shovel by gently lifting the soil and removing the beet by the root instead of pulling at the greens. Once harvested, it is time to start making sugar!

Once you have harvested your sugar beets, bring inside and remove the greens from the roots. The greens can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks when prepared like lettuce or other leafy greens (link to other article). Take beets and clean all the dirt off by scrubbing with a potato brush or something similar. Once clean, cube the sugar beets into small sized spaces. Place in a large saucepan and cover with water – only until it is slightly over the beets. Boil for an hour or until the beets are mushy. Remove beets from boiling water and place in cheese cloth to drain the liquid into a separate container. It may be necessary to let them cool before doing this. Try to get out as much liquid as possible from the beets – two to three tries will yield the best results. This liquid will then be boiled until it is to the consistency that is desired, which can range from a syrup to crystals. 

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