With their rich orange color, sweet taste, crisp texture and overall versatility, carrots are a popular and well-loved vegetable. However, because they are a root vegetable, many people assume they are difficult to grow. But that’s simply not true. Carrots are a relatively easy vegetable to grow, hardy enough for all zones, and come in a number of varieties to suit every taste. Consequently, they make a great crop for the beginning and experienced gardener alike.
Before You Plant
Choose the Right Type of Carrot:
Choosing the right variety depends on your individual tastes and type of soil in your garden. Generally, varieties are classified by length and color. There are too many varieties to list here, but here are some of the more popular, along with some basic soil guidelines:
- Short varieties, such as Thumberline or Little Finger come as small as two inches, and are generally as wide as they are long. There varieties, because they are more compact, generally have a higher sugar content and are therefore quite sweet. They do well in heavy clay soils.
- Medium length, or “half-long” varieties, such as Danvers (5″-6″) or Chantenay (4″-5″) also do okay in heavy soils, but prefer looser, well-drained soil. They will have a lighter color, later maturity and can tend to taste more woody, rather than sweet.
- The longer varieties, such as Nantes (6″-7″) and Imperator (8″-10″) do best in rich, well worked and well drained soil rich in compost. These long, fat carrots are the most popular of home gardeners, and are generally the variety you would see on your grocer’s shelf.
- While most people think of carrots as orange, if you like to step out of the box a bit, carrots come in other colors as well, such as the Red Samurai, the Purple Haze and the Yellow Carrot. These tend to be long, some growing up to 11 or 12 inches, and prefer rich, well worked and well composted soil.
- “Baby carrots” (i.e. the type you see in the “Cello” bag, are a shorter type of carrot and are generally more difficult to grow. They are not recommended for the home gardener.
Find a Suitable Place:
- Choose a spot that gets full sun. Carrots will tolerate a small amount of shade, but generally don’t do well in heavily shaded areas.
- Carrots do well in all zones, but are cool weather vegetables, and thrive in temperatures of between 60 and 75 degrees. Therefore, in the warmer zones (generally Zones 8, 9, 10 and 11) you will want to plant quite early since hot temperatures will adversely affect the taste and texture of the carrot.
- Carrots also do well grown in containers or pots, so long as the pot or container allows for at least 12 inches of soil
Prepare the Soil:
- Depending upon the variety of carrot you’ve chosen, the soil may need to be worked well and heavily composted. Even when planting in heavy or clay soil, carrots will do better with good compost (organic or commercial) mixed into the soil.
- Make sure that the soil in the area where you are planting will accommodate a depth of up to 12 inches. Otherwise, if you’ve chosen a longer variety of carrot, its growth will be stunted.
- Some of the shorter varieties will do fine in rocky soil. However, we recommend that you remove larger rocks, stones, branches and other debris that may inhibit growth; remember, the carrot is a root, and will grow down, so anything that gets in its way may stunt its growth or result in a deformed carrot.
What You Will Need:
- Carrot seeds
- Garden shovel
- Gardening gloves
- Short Sticks (such as popsicle sticks)
- Fence or garden netting
How to Plant and Grow Carrots:
- Since carrots are root vegetables, they do best when the seed is planted directly into the soil, rather than started indoors and transplanted into the soil when greens sprout.
- Work your compost into your soil with the garden shovel, turning and mixing the soil until the compost is evenly mixed into your planting area.
- Direct seed carrots into a well-prepared soil.
- Seeds should be sown in rows spaced about 12 to 18 inches apart, at a depth of about ¼ inch.
- Do not compact the soil on top of the seeds as this will inhibit germination and growth.
- Mark the rows with the short sticks so that you will know where you have planted the seeds.
- Place a fence or gardening net around the area, along with a wind chime or wind-catcher to help deter birds and other garden pests.
- Water sparingly until the seed sprouts and takes hold (about 10-15 days for most varieties).
What You Will Need:
- Garden hose
Steps for Maintenance and Harvesting:
- After the seedlings have emerged, thin them to one inch apart. You can either use the clippers to cut the green part off at the base of the stem, or gently pull the entire carrot out of the ground, being careful not to disturb the other nearby plants.
- When the tops of the carrots grow thicker, thin them to about two to three inches apart. Again, you can either use the clippers to cut the green part off at the base of the stem, or gently pull the entire carrot out of the ground, being careful not to disturb the other nearby plants.
- Be generous with the mulch throughout the growing season, cultivating it lightly into the soil at the base of the leafy stem.
- Weed around your carrots regularly as an excess of weeds can sap vital nutrients away from your carrot root, and inhibit growth. Be careful when pulling weeds, however, so as not to disturb the carrot root.
- When cultivating the soil around your plant, either to weed or to mulch, keep it shallow so as not to disturb the root’s growth.
- If the top of the root pokes through the soil (i.e. you see orange bulging up under the green leaves), cover it with mulch; exposing the root to the sun will result in a bitter, tough carrot.
- Keep your carrots well-watered through-out the growing season, but cut back as they reach maturity, cut back on the water to avoid having the root split.
- Harvest your carrot after the appropriate time for the variety you have chosen (the time frame should be indicated on your seed packet, but generally between 65 and 75 days). It is okay to pick carrots a little earlier than indicated on the seed packet if you prefer to have a more tender and juicy vegetable.
- When harvesting your carrots, push away some of the soil so that the root is exposed. Grasp the carrot by the root (not the greens), push down slightly, wriggle the carrot in a circular motion to loosen it, and pull up firmly. If the carrot won’t budge or the soil is too hard to wriggle, try wetting the area down thoroughly before harvesting.
Additional Tips and Advice
- To extend your harvest you may want to do both a spring planting and an autumn planting, depending upon your climate. Since carrots grow underground, they can withstand colder temperatures longer than most garden vegetables, so your harvest may even extend into the winder months.
- If you have a fireplace or wood burning stove, try sprinkling some of the wood ashes over the planting area before you sow your seeds; the extra potassium will boost your crop.
- Avoid fertilizers that have high nitrogen content; while they may encourage leaf growth, they may inhibit good root development.
- Watch out for the Carrot fly, the most common nemesis of your carrot crop. In the maggot stage, this small white worm will eat along the outside of your carrot and severely damage the root. Pesticides are available to help control this problem and can be found at your local home improvement or gardening store. Garden nets will also help. They are effective and environmentally friendly, but can be a bit pricey and labor intensive.
- While the cliche is that rabbits love carrots, they are more likely to feast on the leafy vegetables in your garden. Rather, your carrots are more likely to suffer the ravages of other pests, such as mice and moles, who will burrow underground and nip at the carrot roots. You can find various traps and repellants effective in getting rid of mice and moles and other such pests at your local home improvement or gardening store. Also, check your local yellow pages to find service providers in your area specializing in animal trapping and removal.
- When storing fresh carrots, always remove the green top (it will draw moisture from the carrot and cause it to shrivel), place in a plastic bag, and place in the vegetable crisper at 32 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Use the carrots within 2 weeks for best flavor.
- When storing fresh carrots, keep them away from fruits (especially apples) as fruits give off ethylene gas while ripening and will cause the carrots to get bitter.