Home GardenOrganic Vegetables A Garden’s Favorite: Carrots

A Garden’s Favorite: Carrots

by a Friendly Gardener
Basket of carrots

All About Carrots

This lovely, vitamin-packed vegetable is well-known for its bright orange color and sweet taste. They do, however, come in various colors like purple, yellow, and red, as well as varying shapes with fern-like foliage on the top.  Botanically named, Daucus carota, it is a member of the Apiaceae family and a native of Europe and Southwestern Asia.

Carrots are a biennale vegetable, but they are harvested at the end of their first year before they produce their flowers during the second year. The roots, which are the art we eat, measure anywhere from six inches to a foot, while foliage above ground will grow to a foot in height and about nine inches in width. Carrots can be cultivated as an annual in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 10.


When to Plant Carrots

Carrots offer the advantage that they grow well in cooler climates. Carrot seeds or seedlings can be planted as soon as it is possible to work and prepare the soil in the spring, even as early as several weeks before the final frost is expected.

Carrots also work wonderfully as a succession plant, and you can plant them every few weeks during the entire spring season. For those that live in warm climates, it is recommended to plant them in the fall and throughout winter.


Choosing Your Crop Site

Farmer growing carrots in a field

Soil: The soil bed should be composed of sandy, loose soil that drains well with a slightly acidic soil pH of 6 to 6.8. Avoid rocky or clumping soil as it will cause the roots to deform.

Light: Carrots do better in locations where there is direct sunlight for six to eight hours daily with afternoon shade.

Temperature: Carrots are cultivated as annuals just about everywhere. They are, however, sweeter when grown in climates where temperatures are 55°F in the nighttime and approximately 75°F in the daytime.

Water and Humidity: A carrot crop should receive one inch of water weekly. Mulching will help in warmer climates.

Feeding: If your soil bed is not particularly rich in organic matter, you will need to fertilize approximately two weeks after carrot tops have emerged. Any basic organic fertilizer for vegetables will suffice.


How to Plant Carrots

Begin by tilling the soil in such a way that it is loose and light to ensure excellent draining.


Planting Carrots from Seed

The most common method used for planting carrots is from seed. The drawback is that seeds are microscopic, making them a bit difficult to manage when trying to plant evenly.

  • If you are seeding directly, your seeds should be planted ¼-inch deep in furrows in the soil bed.
  • Place the seeds approximately three inches apart and cover them with a light layer of soil
  • Press lightly on the soil.
  • Place identification so you know where you need to water.
  • Maintain the furrows moist to prevent the soil from forming a hard crust.
  • Water your crop with one inch of water weekly.
  • The seeds should germinate in two to three weeks.
  • When seedlings appear and reach about two inches tall, begin thinning them out so that they are three inches apart. Having a successful carrot crop depends on how you space your carrots during planting. Seedlings may emerge ½-inch apart, but during growth will need 3 inches of space. You can pinch seedlings off at the soil surface, so that roots are not harmed. Weeds need to be kept out of the vegetable garden to prevent your carrots from deforming. You should thin your crop to keep them from touching during the maturation process.

Your carrots will not need support as other vegetables do, but they do not respond well to being disturbed, moved, or transplanted.


Carrot Overwintering

This plant can be left in the ground during winter. You should remove any weeds before the initial frost for your area, and then mulch heavily or position a row cover in fabric. The Plant tops will die back but the roots will continue to improve their sugar content to guarantee survival. These plants need to be harvested before spring begins or they will flower.

Can I Grow Carrots in Pots?

If your vegetable garden doesn’t offer loose soil, consider growing your carrots in containers. You will need potting soil for vegetables and not for flowers. If cultivated in containers, select a small variety, or bite-sized which is ideal for container-growing.

Containers should be about 24 inches in diameter and 12 inches deep with lots of drainage holes. Soak container carrots weekly.


Carrot Varieties

Multiple carrots varieties

Surprisingly, there are numerous varieties of carrot cultivars to choose from. Some of the more popular options include:


  • Adelaide: an early carrot to plant in February
  • Bangor: An excellent main crop with high yields that stores well
  • Danvers Half Long: sweet and easy to grow
  • Flyaway: orange and sweet with good resistance to carrot rust fly
  • Imperator: a longer cultivar that is known for maintaining crunch and sweetness when stored
  • Little Finger: This is a baby carrot that measures approximately 3-inches
  • Paris Market or Thumbelina: round and plump, it grows bite-sized
  • Purple Haze: The first hybrid that distinguishes itself for color. Purple externally and orange internally and tasty when eaten raw.


How to Harvest Carrots

Hand holding fresh carrots

The harvesting of your carrots is the moment of truth so to speak. Unlike above-ground vegetables, root vegetables grow beneath the surface, so you really will have no idea how your crop is coming along until you harvest.

The moment of harvesting will depend on the variety you are cultivating; however, most varieties will need between 50 and 75 days from when you sow the carrot seeds. Most seed packets will indicate the number of days until harvest for the particular variety you have selected. You can test how your carrots are growing by touching the plant just beneath the soil surface and feeling its consistency. Although the real test will be pulling out a carrot and tasting it.

Avoid the temptation to harvest early because you think you’ll get baby carrots this way. Baby carrots are generally a specific miniature variety that grows small. If you harvest too early, your carrot will disappoint with a bland taste because they have not developed fully. Sweetness is thought to develop when your crop experiences a frost.

Carrots can be easily removed by hand from the soil as long as your soil bed is soft. To avoid risking ruining your carrots, loosen the soil around the plant before removing it. Foliage should be removed immediately once harvested. Leaves continue to steal moisture and energy from the roots until they are removed. To protect your carrots’ quality, remove leaves promptly.


Carrots or Parsnips?

Because not all carrot cultivars are orange, there can be some confusion between these two vegetables. The Pastinaca sativa is in the same family as carrots. What differentiates the two is their taste. Carrots are sweet and parsnips are spicy. Sometimes they are prepared together in the same recipe.


Diseases and Pests

The biggest threat your carrots will face will come from the carrot rust fly. This pest will deposit its eggs in the soil bed near the carrot tops. Upon hatching, larvae will descend into the soil and enter the carrot root where it will create tunnels inside the vegetable. Carrot weevils operate similarly. To contrast pest damage, rotate crops annually or use row covers.

Nematodes can create problems once the crops are more mature, causing them to deform. Solarization to heat the soil can kill these pests.

Also consider fencing to avoid local wildlife like rabbits, hares, deer, opossum, and groundhogs from devouring your crop.

Diseases that create problems include leaf blight and bacterial infections. If the plants become infected, they need to be removed and disposed of. Also, avoid replanting carrots in the same spot as some microorganisms remain in the soil.


The Bottom Line

Even the most experienced vegetable gardeners find carrot cultivation a challenge. However, a cool climate, well-tilled loose soil with good drainage, and generous amounts of water should provide you with a nice carrot harvest in roughly two months.

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