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Growing Carrots: Your Complete Guide

Carrots are one of my favorite crops in my fall and spring garden.  The taste of homegrown carrots trumps anything you purchase from a grocery store. Growing carrots allows you to plant various colors and sizes. Not to mention that homegrown carrots store better than grocery store carrots. If you have never grown carrots, let me tell you something, whether an adult or a child, unearthing a carrot is one of the best feelings in the garden. 

I used to struggle with growing carrots. I used to end up with small, twisted, and misshaped carrots until I learned a few tricks. Read this grow guide and pay attention to the tips presented here. That way, you don’t waste multiple growing seasons growing and harvesting miniature carrots. 

Varieties

Choose your carrot variety based on your desires. There are more than the basic orange carrots we are used to seeing in the grocery store.  Carrots come in many shapes, sizes, and colors and are classified by the shape and length of the root. There are five primary types of carrots.

  1. Imperators. They are the primary type of commercial carrots. They have long (8-10”) slender roots with tapered tips.

  2. Chantenay. Short to mid-length (4.5-5.5”) with oversized tops and a conical shape. They are better for shallow, heavy soils than long, skinny Imperator types.

  3. Danvers. They are conical, thick carrots that can be up to 7 inches long.

  4. Nantes. Cylindrical with a blunt tip and are 6 to 7 inches long. These carrots have excellent flavor and quality and are a favorite of home gardeners.

  5. Miniature/Oxheart/Paris Market. Short, stocky roots that are only 2 to 3 inches long. These are suitable types for heavy, clay soils, or container gardening.

When to Plant Carrots

Carrots are a cool season crop that grows best in fall and spring. If you live in a gardening zone with mild winters, like zones 9 and 10, you can grow carrots through the winter. Just know that carrots grown in mild winters need to be sowed by late fall. Don’t be surprised if they grow slower than carrots that you plant at other times of the year. The cold weather and extreme weather significantly slow the growing speed of carrots.

Carrot seeds do not transplant well at all. These crops will only grow into our desired roots if the seeds are directly sown into the garden. Seeds germinate slowly in the spring. Plant seeds when the soil temperature is around 70 degrees. Even though the seeds like warm temperatures for germination, the roots prefer and grow best in cool temperatures. Remember when I said carrots grown in the summer or winter would mature slower? See now, it makes more sense.

Carrots take between 3-4 months from seed to harvest. For a summer harvest, sow carrot seeds in the spring. For a fall harvest, sow seeds in late summer to early fall, 10-12 weeks before your average frost date.

Soil Prep

One of the secrets to growing amazing carrots is to start with the right soil consistency and proper nutrients. To achieve photo-worthy carrots, ensure you’re growing soil in the appropriate soil. Carrots grow best in well-drained, loose soil full of organic matter. Like other root crops, carrots also need well-drained soil free of impediments such as rocks or large pieces of wood. The easiest way to ensure your soil is ideal is to till and work compost into the soil before planting.

Yes, I know I said the dreaded “T.” Look, I don’t recommend tilling your soil often or at all if you don’t know why, check out this article here about soil life and no-till, but sometimes you don’t have a choice. While carrots can be grown in no-till methods, I haven’t had the best results. The easiest way to ensure that your soil is optimal is to grow carrots in raised beds where you have total control over the soil and the consistency.

If you attempt to grow carrots in compacted or clay soil, make sure to amend the soil before planting. Look to work compost, coco coir, sand, or even peat moss into the soil before planting. After working the organic matter into the soil, water the soil deeply. This is not the ideal soil consistency to grow award-winning carrots. Be prepared to grow smaller carrots varieties with shorter maturity times for compacted soils.

Fertilizer

I love carrots because they don’t take any additional fertilizer once they start growing. The best way to fertilize is by applying a slow release all-purpose organic fertilizer before planting. I prefer to work my unique blend of organic matter into the soil between seasons. The unique blend includes kelp meal, azomite, blood meal, bone meal, and more. Whatever you do, avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers. I often tell you to hit freshly planted crops with nitrogen, but too much nitrogen will force your carrots to grow tops and not produce a root.

Can I grow carrots in a container?

Have you read the article about container gardening? If so, then you know that you can grow anything in containers. The key is ensuring you have the right size container for your variety.  Here are some tips for growing carrots successfully in containers.

  1. Choose the suitable carrot variety for your container size

  2. Invest in high-quality, organic soil

  3. Pick the correct container that matches the variety

  4. Consistent watering

  5. Thin your seedlings

  6. Hill your carrots

  7. Fertilize your carrots twice during the season.

Remember, containers need more frequent watering than in-ground or larger raised beds.

Growing Carrots: The Basics

Carrots must be directly sown into your garden. Like other root crops, they do not transplant well, if at all. When planting carrots, you can either neatly sow rows or lightly scatter the seeds all over your planting area.  One is not better than the other. It is a personal preference.  I have done both. The mood I am in that day determines whether I end up with neat rows.

Pour a pile of seeds into one hand and then do your best “salt bae” impression. If you don’t know what that means, google it. Pinch some seeds between your pointer, middle finger, and thumb, and pretend you are on top chef seasoning a dish.

Make sure you overseed the bed. You want to fill all the spaces. While there may seem to be too many seeds, remember that everyone will not germinate. It is better to have to thin the extra seedlings once they grow.

If planning to sow seeds in neat rows, create a shallow furrow and spread the seeds. Space carrot rows 4 inches apart.

After placing the seeds, you have two options, leave them uncovered, known as surface sowing, or lightly cover seeds with soil or compost. I have done both but have the best results, lightly covering the seeds. Make sure to apply only a little soil over the carrot seed, or they could struggle to germinate. Whatever you do, do not compact the soil after covering the seeds.

Watering

After sowing, gently water the planting area. This is one of the times I prefer to use a watering can instead of my hose. Too much water or watering aggressively can cause the seeds to move or become exposed. Once exposed, they can become bird food, dry out too quickly, or be blown away by the wind.

Always keep the planting area moist while the seeds are germinating. Do not let the soil dry out at any time, even if you have to water it multiple times a day. Dry soil can form a crust on top of the soil that the seedlings cannot push through.

Once germinated, water carrots deeply at least once a week. The deeper the watering, the larger the carrots will be. Infrequent or shallow watering leads to hairy carrots.

Thinning

The most vital tip I can give you for successfully growing carrots is to make sure you thin them once they germinate. Thinning reduces the chances of carrots being overcrowded. Crowded or unthinned carrots remain small and misshaped. When thinning, space carrots 1-2 inches apart.

When thinning carrots, you have two options, thin the carrots early before any significant roots have grown or wait until the roots begin to develop. I prefer the latter because I end up with mini carrots for a snack.

Pest and Disease

Carrots are relatively pest free. Make sure to control the weeds when the plants are young. Eventually, the carrot greens will reach a certain height, and weeds will become less of an issue. Occasionally powdery mildew affects the carrot greens but has no adverse effect on the root. Also, I have had problems with aphids on the greens, but that is an easy fix. Check out the DIY sprays involving castile soap.

If you notice greens being eaten at the base, it is more than likely cutworms. Apply BT spray and then cover the bed with a floating-row cover.

Harvesting and Storing Carrots

Harvest carrots when they reach your preferred size. You can wait til they reach full maturity or harvest them at the baby stage. Either way, carrots are usually ready to harvest in 2-4 months after germinating. Certain varieties will poke out of the top of the soil. For other types, you may have to lightly move the soil from the base of the greens to check if they have reached your preferred size.

If you planted the carrots in loose soil, you should be able to grab the greens and pull them to unearth the carrots. Digging is usually only required when grown in clay soil. If you must search to unearth the carrots, I recommend using a garden fork instead of a shovel. This way, you run less risk of damaging the roots.

Once harvested, remove the greens before cleaning the roots. Keep all of the carrot tops or greens. Remember that they are edible. After washing, store carrots in a ziplock bag with a little bit of water in the bottom of the bag. This helps to keep the humidity levels high. I have successfully stored homegrown carrots for moths with this method.

Another storage option is to leave the carrots in the ground during winter. The soil and cold temperatures will help preserve and keep them fresh.

All in all, every gardener should grow carrots, regardless of the size of their garden. Remember to keep the soil loose, stay away from nitrogen-rich fertilizers, and be patient. Follow all the tips in this growing guide, and I have no doubt you will be able to JUST GROW IT. If you have any questions, you know how to find me.


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