Your comprehensive guide to growing carrots with ease

Comprehensive guide to carrotsIs your families eating habits like mine… a little picky???  For my family carrots and lettuce are the two vegetables we all eat and like so we have plenty of salads! And as a result I have been growing carrots for quite a while and gathered lots of articles as well as personal experience.  So I decided to put together my notes and tips/tricks into this comprehensive guide to growing carrots with ease and success!

 

General Carrot Information:  

Carrots are useful

Carrots are wonderful plants to grow in the garden because they are long lasting and don’t quickly rot or bolt, they are useful in the kitchen as a raw food or in meals, and most farm animals will eat them.  The thick part we typically eat is a taproot that is storing large amounts of sugars for the plant which is a biennial, meaning it grows one year and the flowers and reproduces the next year.  If allowed to flower they attract beneficial predatory wasps that kill many destructive pests in the vegetable patch.  By harvesting we stop this biennial growth process by pulling the taproot before the second year.

The best tasting carrots are those high in sugar and with a larger proportion of cortex compared to core (for those who know their plant biology, the cortex is the phloem of the carrot and the inner core is the xylem).

Carrots are healthy

Carrots come in many colors including red, orange, yellow, purple and even white.  Carrots are one members of the Umbelliferae family and are therefore related to parsley, celery, parsnip, fennel, anise, dill, coriander, caraway, and cumin. Carrots are 88% water, 4.7% sugar, 2.6% protein, 1% ash, and 0.2% fat.  Carrots are high in Vitamin C, B6 and Niacin.  All carrots are high in beta-carotene which is pigment that we as humans metabolize as vitamin A when we digest carrots.  Without Vitamin A our vision can suffer which is one reason carrots are known as helping with our eyesight.
comprehensive guide to growing carrots nutrition

 

Carrots are popular

Carrot is one of the ten most economically important vegetables crops in the world, with the overwhelming producer of carrots being China with the United States coming in fourth.

Place in the garden world

Carrots are cool season crops.  They grow easily in zones 4-10.  They like full sun exposure

     
Picking the right carrot for you

Color

There are four general types of carrots and some newer types that are gaining popularity.  Typically most home gardeners base their choices on the carrots length and color.  Colors are predominantly to encourage us to eat more, as there isn’t a huge difference in taste, but colorful carrots provide variety in your salads and something fun for the kids.  Some colorful carrots are alleged to be more fibrous, although leaving them in the ground too long in high heat can also cause this problem.   I have found Yellowstone (yellow) and cosmic purple and atomic red to be good.

Length

The length of a carrot is both a personal choice and a decision about space in the garden.  If you don’t have much space you can plant fast growing round carrots.  Baby carrots are simply younger carrots the are pulled before full maturity.  If you plant too many carrots and need to thin them, its fun to pull the extras out when they are small and put into salads.

The main types and characteristics of carrots:

 Chart of carrots lengths and characteristics
Growing Carrots

Seed starting:  Carrots are best sown outdoors where they will grow.  Some have success growing them in containers as long as the containers are very deep.  I have heard of people using paper half gallon milk containers to get a good start and then transplanting them into the garden by cutting off the bottom and putting the whole square into the ground. 

     Indoor:  Not recommended

     Outdoor: There are a couple key concepts for carrot seed starting success.  For a detailed look at seed starting check out my free 22-page Seed Starting Workbook by clicking here.

  1. Soil temperature should be at least 50 degrees and since these are cold season crops they don’t like hot temperatures for germination over 80 degrees.
  2. Seeds must be shallow planted but have consistent moisture during germination.  Germination can take up to 3 weeks so this can be tricky if the weather gets warm.  What I do is water well just prior to planting and level out the soil as best I can.
  3. Then make a small indentation in the soil about 1/4 inch deep and if planting rows space them 10 inches apart.  I plant my seeds spacing them as best as I can aiming for one seed every inch… but these seeds are very tiny so more usually go in than I can see.  You then cover them lightly.  Do not use fresh compost to plant into as that can cause forking of the carrots.
  4. A new idea I just learned about is to use the soilless seed starting mix you would use for indoor plants as the light covering.  This keeps a light material over the seed, will be a different color from areas around it so I can see where my seeds are (and distinguish from weeds) and the soilless seed starting mixture is intended to retain moisture.  I think I will not moisten it before I spread as it will spread easier then. I may have to use the misting setting on my hose afterwards as a gently way to moisten the soil.Seed Saving Workbook

Check out our workbook on seed starting for tips and techniques to grow organic vegetables based on your own planting zone.

 

Any special conditions/troubleshooting

Carrots don’t like a hard crust above the seed and wont bust through it.  Solution is a light soil on top… either vermiculite or soilless seed starting mix. 

Moisture retention: If moisture will be a problem for you consider putting a covering over your seeds for the first week or so until they pop out of the ground.  I have heard people use a board or row coverings.

Weeds:  Roots crops germinate slowly but don’t like competition from weeds which can cause the roots to grow crooked or fork.  A solution is to know where you planted your seeds (use the soilless method above or use strings to mark you rows) so you can pull the weeds.  Don’t use weed killers or weed inhibitors.

All tops with no roots or small roots usually a result of planting too close or not thinning plants. Excessive nitrogen fertilization can also cause growth of the green tops at the expense of root growth.

 Carrots don’t like acidic soils which we tend to have a lot here in the Pacific Northwest (the rain encourages acidity).   The optimum pH range is between 6 and 6.5. Liming will raise the pH of acid soils

Pests:  See below but most issues with pests can be resolved by using row covers to provide a physical barrier against pests but still allowing light for the seedlings.  Often, once the seedlings are growing strong you can remove the covering and although you may still get some pests the plant can fight them off properly.

Transplanting: this isn’t really an issue as most gardeners don’t grow carrots indoors and stores don’t usually sell for transplant. Carrots have a long root (much longer than you see when you pull) and if it is disturbed it will stunt or stop growth.
Growth encouragement

  • Thin carrots to every 3-4 inches or so.  Look at your seedlings and pick ones that look weak to remove.  This will help you grow thicker longer carrots
  • Fertilizers:  Its best to amend your soil before you plant with vermicompost (worm castings) and/or well aged compost.  If you do this you probably don’t need to add much nitrogen later.  They respond to abundant phosphorous and potassium more than to nitrogen during growth.
  • For a longer harvest succession plant a new row every few weeks.  Also, carrots can (and should) be planted in the spring as well as later for a fall crop.          

Diseases and pests:  Carrots are typically pest and disease resistant but there are a few to watch out for.

  • Carrot root flies are maggots so as they are growing they feed the roots and destroy root crops. Control by harvesting plants as soon as possible because the fly is attracted to the smell of mature, especially harvested carrots. If you had a problem last year you could use an organic soil insecticide may be used to control maggots at planting time but don’t apply when there are growing carrots.
  • Flea beetles chew small, round holes in leaves.  These little beetles jump when you get close. They can spread disease and destroy the crop.
  • Aster leafhoppers look like one-eighth-inch green slivers, which hop about when the foliage is disturbed. Leafhopper feeding causes light damage, but leafhoppers can spread aster yellows, a disease caused by a tumor-forming bacterium sometimes present in otherwise healthy soils. According to Mother Earth News Trying to eliminate it would be unwise because of its close family ties with nitrogen-fixing rhizobia that benefit legumes. Instead, grow carrots in compost-enriched soil far from grapes and nut or fruit trees, which often host the parasitic bacteria. Use row covers to exclude the leafhoppers.

Harvesting

Carrots are usually harvested when the roots rich in color and are ¾ inches in diameter at the shoulders although they can be harvested any time they reach a usable size.  If harvesting the entire crop use a garden fork to loosen the soil first before pulling.  For individual plants don’t pull the carrot out using the tops but rather push the root to the side and pull it out of the ground.

Preservation/canning

I have kept carrots in the soil all winter long during mild Pacific northwest winters.  It really does make them sweeter and they stay fresher outside than in my refrigerator!

Remove tops to prevent moisture loss and store in a refrigerator or cold root cellar.  I have heard a controversy over whether or not you should wash your carrots well before storing.  I have had a problem when I wash so I just get the dirt off (oops, I mean soil) now unless I know I will be using them in the next week or two.  Most varieties keep for several months in the fridge. Carrots also may be canned, pickled, dried or frozen.

Try roasted carrots with a touch of honey or one of these other suggestions for spicing up roasted carrots!

Companion planting:  Carrots are often used as companion plants as some other vegetables, like onions and leeks, are useful in stopping the root fly from finding the carrots.  There’s of course the book, Carrots love Tomatoes.  And then some herbs are said to also help deter the carrot root fly… like chives (smell like onions), but also sage and rosemary.  Some people plant radish to break up the soil near carrots.


I hope you enjoyed this comprehensive guide to carrots.  Feel free to download my info-graphic on carrots which includes the highlights of this guide.  And join our email list for updates and other content not included on Something To Discover.

growing-series-carrots inforgraphic 2

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