I’m sure they must be out there, but we’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.
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 sowing is 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. Bear in mind that shorter-rooted varieties typically mature a little faster than longer-rooted ones. Many carrot varieties will develop lovely dark green foliage when they are ready to eat.
Tips for Success:
- Avoid breaking carrots when harvesting 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 this 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 grow. Conditioned, well-worked soil will help grow healthy roots. If you have new garden beds, rocky or clay 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.
Written by Angie Lavezzo