If you’ve never bit into a fresh picked, garden-grown carrot, then you have no idea what you are missing. Grocery store carrots are grown with only the goal of easy transport in mind, but if you grow your own you can expose yourself to a tantalizing variety of shapes and flavors. Forget bland and mealy; by growing carrots, they will be bursting with flavor, bright colors, and wholesome nutrition.
Carrots are an easy, rewarding crop to grow, so long as you have the patience to let them mature. You don’t need much space or time to grow a satisfying crop all summer long, so start now to enjoy some carroty goodness as soon as possible.
Start Growing Carrots
Like most root vegetables, carrots don’t do well when transplanted. It won’t help to start them inside, so you should plan on direct sowing your crop as soon as the weather cooperates. You can follow the steps below for success in raising your carrots.
When and Where Should You Grow Carrots?
Carrots need long summers and sunny patches of ground to grow in. If your summers are cold and have a mediocre vegetable-growing climate, you can beat the bad weather and grow carrots in raised beds or climate-controlled hoop houses. The sandier the soil the better they will grow, so if you have heavy clay soil you’ll need to amend it.
Understanding Seed Germination for Carrots
Carrots take between 70 to 80 days to reach full maturity, so patience is needed to prevent you from getting over eager and harvesting too early. It can take carrot seeds as long as ten days to fully sprout (sometimes longer if the seeds are covered in clay) so patience and careful watering are needed during this time. Carrot seeds germinate best when soil temperatures are close to 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Preparing a Carrot Bed
Getting your carrot bed primed for planting is a crucial step for your overall success. To remove all obstacles from your plant’s roots, you can double dig the planting area a foot deep or build up raised beds with high-quality soil. Your goal is to achieve loose, rock-free soil filled with plenty of compost mixed in the top few inches. Potassium promotes the growth of solid, sweet carrots, so adding a little extra is a good idea.
If you have clay soil you will need to work to amend it by adding sand and loam into the top twelve inches and working it together to loosen the clay. Many times shorter, thicker carrot types do better in clay because they are less likely to get deformed as they try to grow. Some good choices are ‘Chantenay Red Core‘, and ‘Parisienne‘.
Planting Your Carrots
To plant your carrots, rake the planting bed free of lumps and stones and broadcast or row plant your seeds. A good goal is to try to plant six seeds per inch. Your seedlings will sprout in 1 to 3 weeks, so be sure to carefully mark the rows so you don’t lose them to the faster-growing weeds. Cover the seeds with a quarter inch of dirt and water your patch carefully so not to blast out the seeds. Keep them continuously moist until they sprout, as a constant supply of water is essential for germination.
Once your seedlings are two inches high, thin them to one inch apart, and again to four inches apart after two weeks. You can start sowing carrots outside two weeks before the last frost date and then continue planting every three weeks until midsummer. If you plant a new patch of carrots as soon as the old one is established, you’ll be able to eat fresh carrots all year long. Immature carrots don’t do well with cold temperatures, so you should plant your last crop two to three months before the expected fall frosts.
Watering and Mulching Requirements
As stated earlier, carrots need lots of water when they are first getting established. You never want to let young plants dry out because it can stunt the carrots long term. How you water is extremely important though because allowing the bed to dry out and then drenching the plants can cause their roots to split. Instead, gradually re-moisten a dried out bed to keep the plants healthy. Throughout their growing cycle, carrots need about an inch of water a week. Once the carrots are better established, the timing and water levels are less important, but the plants will still thrive best when kept continuously moist.
Carrots are susceptible to being overtaken by weeds, so weed often to prevent them from interfering with the beds. You should weed within the first few weeks of planting to help your plants get a head start on the competition. Keeping your carrot patch well mulched will help to retain moisture and prevent sunspots from damaging the partially exposed roots. If you start to see the orange carrot crowns peek out of the soil, it’s best to cover them with a layer of mulch to prevent them from turning green.
Companion Planting and Rotation Considerations
Carrots grow well with a wide variety of species. Beans, onions, lettuce, peppers, peas, tomatoes and radishes are all healthy companion plants. Planting chives next to carrots can even lead to faster growth and a stronger carrot flavor, and rosemary and sage help to keep carrot flies away.
Radishes and carrots are an especially good combination because they can be grown together. Simply plant the seeds together in rows, and the radishes will germinate first and loosen the soil for the carrot seeds. The carrots will still be young when the radishes are ready to be harvested, meaning that you will create extra room for them once you pull them out.
Be careful not to plant carrots next to coriander and dill, as they can slow down growth.
Common Pests and Diseases for Carrots
Unfortunately, plenty of pests find carrots to be as delicious as we humans think they are. The biggest threat to your carrot crop is large, hungry mammals like deer, gophers, woodchucks and rabbits that will get in and devastate your crop. A good garden fence will make a world of difference in keeping these pests away.
Below is a list of some of the other pests and diseases that can affect your carrot crop.
- Carrot Rust Flies: a big problem in the Northwest, rust fliest look like small green houseflies with big yellow heads and red beady eyes. Their larva enjoys nothing more than burrowing into the roots of carrot plants, turning them dark red and inedible. You can prevent infestations by delaying your planting until late spring or using a floating row cover to keep flies away.
- Parsleyworms: thick green caterpillars with black stripes and orange horns, parsley worms love to chomp on carrot foliage and stunt growth. However, because they turn into beautiful black swallowtail butterflies, try to move each caterpillar rather than kill them.
- Leaf Blight: as the most common carrot disease, leaf blight starts on leaf margins and forms white and yellow spots that soon turn brown and dead-looking. The best way to prevent it is to plant resistant carrot varieties.
- Aster Yellow Disease: shortened and discolored carrot tops with hairy roots can be attributed to this frustrating disease, and because it is spread by plant-feeding insects, your best plan of attack is to keep weeds down and stop creating ideal habitats for pests like leafhoppers.
Harvesting and Storing Carrots
Carrots become sweeter the older they get, but you can harvest them whenever they reach the size and flavor you are looking for. There is little pressure to pick them exactly when they ripen, as carrots hold up well in fields for at least a month after maturing, and a few varieties like Napoli can be overwintered for an early spring harvest.
Using a pitchfork can easily bruise your crop, so a small harvest should be pulled out by hand, with the aid of a trowel to loosen the soil before you pull. You can also water the bed before harvesting to loosen the soil and make the carrots easier to extract.
After harvesting, remove the carrot tops to prevent moisture loss and store them in the refrigerator or root cellar. Varieties will keep for several months when stored properly, and for longer storage you can also can, pickle, dry or freeze them.
Saving Carrot Seeds
Because carrots are a biennial plant, they don’t flower or make seeds until their second year of growth. Because carrots will cross-pollinate, you want to keep your seed carrots a quarter mile away from other varieties. When the flowers have formed seed clusters that ripen and turn brown, you can collect them in a paper bag and allow them to dry for another week before crushing the clusters and gathering each seed. Keep only the largest seeds and store them in a cool, moisture-free place. Carrot seeds will be viable for three years.
Choosing the Best Carrot Seeds for Your Climate
There are a wide variety of shapes and sizes of carrots you can grow, depending on your climate. There are five major categories that all carrots can be divided into:
- Nantes: an “all-purpose” carrot that is fast and easy to grow in a wide range of climates and soils.
- Chantenay: develop short, stocky roots that get sweetest in the late fall.
- Miniature: small carrots that form shallow roots that are sweet and tender. These tend to do well in heavy clay soils.
- Imperator: long, delicate carrots that need deep, sandy soil to thrive.
- Danvers: sturdy storage carrots that do well in a root cellar and are great for juicing.
Additional Growing Tips for Organic Carrots
Follow these tips for guaranteed success with your carrot crop this year.
- Keep the soil moist for at least ten days after sowing to give your carrots enough time to fully germinate. You can reduce surface evaporation during this time by covering your carrot beds with old blankets for the first five days. Once the carrots have germinated, remove the blankets.
- You can make shallow furrows to plant your carrots that are filled with new potting soil. This will prevent weeds from getting established as quickly.
- Don’t use too much nitrogen on your plants. Adding fresh manure to young carrots can cause their roots to fork out in unsightly ways. If you add some compost to your beds before planting, carrots don’t need to be top dressed throughout the season.
- If you are overwintering your carrots, you can harvest the small blossom clusters to use as cut flowers. This thinning helps the plants channel their efforts towards the biggest seed clusters instead.
- For the sweetest, best-tasting carrots, wait to harvest them until after the first few touches of frost of the season.