I’m sure they must be out there, but I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t love carrots. Crunchy, sweet, and highly nutritious, carrots are a good source of beta carotene, fiber, vitamin K, potassium, and antioxidants. Because of their tendency to do a whole lot of nothing if the soil conditions or planting time isn’t just right, they can be a frustrating crop to grow, but with some understanding and know-how, carrots are fun and satisfying to add to your garden rotation.
Carrot varieties fall into two distinct categories: short-rooted and long-rooted.
Short-rooted varieties can be grown in a variety of locations, including raised beds and containers. These types will also be the better choice for clay soils. Short-rooted varieties can also be referred to as baby, mini, or round in their descriptions.
Long-rooted carrots have the typical, tapered carrot shape. They take slightly longer to mature and are usually a little sweeter than shorter varieties.
You can harvest carrots at any time, but they will be sweetest if left to fully mature. For continuous harvests, plant both short and long-rooted types that will mature at different times.
Planting and Aftercare:
Being a root vegetable, your carrots will need easy access to be able to push down into your soil, so start your prep work by digging into your planting bed to loosen the soil to the depth of at least 12”. Remove rocks and break up dirt clods, and turn in an inch or two of compost while you’re at it.
Begin sowing carrots as soon as the soil can be worked in late winter/early spring. Continue to sow every 7-10 days until late spring to ensure a continuous harvest. In some areas of the country, fall sowings can be possible, but keep in mind that they may not have enough sunlight to mature before winter sets in. No harm though! With patience, they should finish growing as the days start to lengthen in spring.
Soak your carrot seeds in water overnight to greatly increase germination success. Drain the seeds in the morning and mix the seeds with equal parts sand and scatter the mixture over the surface of the bed, or into your chosen rows. Sprinkle a fine layer of soil or compost over your seeds to ensure good soil contact, and water gently. Spreading a floating row cover over your seeds at this point can be helpful in aiding germination. Continue to water gently until new growth appears, and at this time you can remove the row cover.
Water your bed deeply on a regular basis. Aim for an inch of water one to two times a week as your carrots are getting established. When your carrot greens are about 3” high, thin your plants so that the mature vegetables will be spaced about 2-3” apart. After thinning, apply mulch around your plants to keep the soil evenly moist.
The days to maturity date on your packets will help you know when your carrots will be ready, though temperature swings can sometimes extend this. Many carrot varieties will develop lovely dark green foliage when they are ready to eat.
Tips for Success:
Avoid breaking carrots by gently loosening the soil around them with a garden fork.
Splitting can be a common problem for many carrot varieties. To prevent this, keep your soil evenly moist (but not wet) at all times and mulch to hold moisture.
Roots that come out hairy are a very common problem as well, and surprisingly is a sign that your soil is too fertile. Avoid hairy roots by not applying fertilizer with a high-nitrogen level. While carrots do need some nitrogen, if you need to feed during the growing season, use a fertilizer with a larger second and third number. For example, 2-5-5 or 0-10-10.
Too much nitrogen, or simply not enough potassium and phosphorus can also lead to non-existent roots, which can also be frustratingly common. If you find that enough time has gone by and you are pulling carrots that have lovely greens and no roots, feed with a fertilizer with a 0 as the first number and give them some more time.
Forked roots can be caused by a bed that contains large dirt clods or rocks. Good prep before planting usually takes care of this.
Pests to Watch For:
Carrots are not generally bothered by much, which adds to the satisfaction of growing them. Their biggest pest, if you can really call it a pest, are Parsleyworms (shown above on a parsley plant.) Parsleyworms have another name though, and that is the Black Swallowtail Butterfly larva, which is why I personally, never, ever, destroy these beauties. These caterpillars can eat all of the leaves on a carrot plant within a few days, but that might be a small price to pay to know that your garden has been a chosen spot for butterflies to complete their life cycle. Carrot, parsley, and fennel are all host plants for these gorgeous butterflies, and if you see them, rejoice! And next season, plant some extra so there’s enough to share.
Growing Zone and Special Conditions:
Carrots are annuals and easy to grow in all areas of the United States. Full sun will ensure large, tasty roots. Each carrot seed will produce one carrot root, and you can expect the carrot greens to spread 2-4” wide and reach 6-16” in height depending on the variety you grown. Conditioned, well-worked soil will help grow healthy roots. If you have new garden beds, rocky or clay-prone soil, avoid growing long-rooted types and stick with a ‘danvers’ or other stumpy rooted variety. It’s a good idea to experiment with varieties so you can find your favorites. This will also offer you different harvest times which will be helpful for staggering harvests.
Carrots store for a surprisingly long time. Kept in a cool, dark, and humid place, carrots can store for four months or more.
Shop Carrots here: https://sowtrueseed.com/collections/carrot
What have your carrot growing experiences been like? Share your successful tips or problems we might be able to help with in the comments so we can all learn together! <3
Written by Sow True Seed's Education Director, Angie Lavezzo. Read more about her garden journey on her personal blog, www.nowandzenfarm.com