How To Grow Carrots
When I was growing up, my mom always told me that carrots were good for my eyes.
That is certainly true, because carrots contain healthy amount of beta carotene, which is a precursor for important biochemical compounds that assist with vision.
Not only is that the case, carrots also contain large amounts of vitamin K, vitamin C, potassium, and manganese.
Because of their high nutrient content as well as their delicious flavor, learning how to grow carrots can be a fun and rewarding experience.
In this guide I will teach you everything you need to know to learn how to grow carrots. Learning how to grow carrots is a great experience for novice gardeners, because carrots are a relatively easy vegetable to grow. In addition, even gardeners who do not have a lot of space will find that they don’t need much room for how to grow carrots. Not only can you learn how to grow carrots in small garden beds, there are also varieties that are perfect for how to grow carrots in containers! Beyond that, carrots have a fairly short growing season as compared to many other vegetables, which means that you can grow several crops in the same area over the length of your growing season.
Because carrots grow below ground, and have a wide range of colors, from yellow, to orange, and even purple, it can be a great lesson to teach kids how to grow carrots. Carrots are a wonderful way to introduce kids to the garden and to explain to them how seeds work. Kids will also have a lot of fun when it comes time to pull the carrots out of the ground, especially if you are learning how to grow carrots that are different shapes, sizes, and colors.
In my guide about how to grow carrots, I will start with an overview of carrots. The overview will include a short history of carrots, and how they came to be spread across the entire world and used in cuisine in Asia, Europe, and North and South America. I will then talk about the different varietals of carrots, as well as which ones I like to grow best in my own garden. Then I will explain the kind of climate and soil conditions you will need to take into consideration for how to grow carrots in your region. To finish that section, I will talk about the general needs that all varietals of carrots have.
Then, I will move on to discussing the various aspects that are important to planting carrots, including preparation of the soil, and how to plant carrot seeds for best results. I will explain planting techniques for how to grow carrots if you are only planting one crop as well as techniques for how to grow carrots all year long.
Next, I will explain how to care for your carrots once the seedlings have been established. This section will cover basic concerns like watering your carrots, whether you should mulch your carrots, and how to deal with common problems when you are growing carrots, such as poor stands, green tops, and how to prevent and deal with pests that prey on carrot crops.
Finally, I will talk about when and how to harvest your carrots and how to store them once you have harvested them. I will also discuss whether you should pull your carrots early or leave them in the ground over the winter, and why there are different reasons for each method. In this section I will also talk about how to grow carrots that will produce seeds the following spring, and how to harvest and save the seeds.
So, let’s get started. I hope you enjoy my guide on how to grow carrots!
1. All About Carrots
In this section, I will briefly discuss the history of carrots, the kinds of cuisine carrots are used in, the different varietals of carrots available to the home gardener, and what carrots need in order to grow well. It is important to understand what kind of climate and soil conditions carrots need when you are learning how to grow carrots, especially because different cultivars of carrots have different soil and climate needs. Also, different regions of the United States are better suited to different types of carrots, so it is important to understand how to grow carrots that are best suited to your region of the country.
1a. A Brief History Of Carrots
Carrots are native to the northwest area of India. The wild carrot had a thin, though root, and the roots of carrots that resemble present day cultivars were developed by gardeners in France. Carrots were very widely established as a common food source in Europe by about the thirteenth century. They were brought to the Americas by early settlers, where they became a very popular food among the native populations there. Today carrots are widely spread throughout the world. They play a role in cuisine throughout the Americas, Asia, and Europe.
Carrots are biennial plants that are widely grown for their delicious roots. A carrot root that has been cut crosswise will show two distinct areas, an outer area and an inner area or core. High quality carrots are the ones that have a large outer area as compared to the inner one. The outer area contains far more sugar and vitamins than the inner area. Carrots produce a large root during its first year of growth, and during their second year of growth, they produce a large seed stalk that can be two to three feet high.
1b. Variety Selection Of Carrots
The varieties of carrots available to the home gardener number in the hundreds and encompass an almost endless array of colors, lengths, widths, and tastes, These can range from the very tiny Thumbelina carrot that is literally no bigger than your thumb all the way through the multicolored Cosmic Purple carrot. In general, carrots fall into a few broad categories. These include Imperator type varieties that are long and tapered; Nantes varieties that are cylindrical and high in sugar but that do not keep very well; Danvers, with a high fiber content and very good keeping qualities; and Chantenay types that are short and wide, and are therefore better suited for heavy soils.
Even though the majority of carrots that you can find at the grocer’s are in the Imperator type category, these are usually some of the least tasty varieties. If you want to learn how to grow carrots in your garden that are unique from the ones you can find at the store, I recommend that you look for varieties such as Saint Valery, Scarlet Nantes, and Danvers Half Long. You can also grow some purple carrots, such as the Dragon varietal, for even more variety. Having a mix of carrots in your garden and on your dinner table can be a fun and rewarding experience.
The Saint Valery carrots can grow to be as much as twelve inches long and up to three inches wide – a really big carrot! These carrots store well, have a high germination rate, and therefore tend to be quite productive. Because of these factors, they are an excellent choice for the novice gardener who is just learning how to grow carrots as well as experts who want to produce a high yield from their vegetable garden. Scarlet Nantes carrots are blunt at the tip and about seven inches long. They are reddish and very sweet, and they are almost completely without a core area. This variety is especially great if you want to know how to grow carrots for making juices. The Danvers Half Long varietal grows well in tougher soils, and is about seven inches long when they mature. These are a favorite at many farmers’ markets as well.
1c. General Needs Of All Carrots
Carrots are moderately frost tolerant. They can be grown in the fall, winter, and early spring in the Southern United States and the Pacific Northwest. In the northern latitudes of the United States and Canada, carrots can be grown from the early spring to the early fall.
Carrots need deep soil to produce a long root. If the garden contains a hard pan of solid soil or if only the top three or four inches of the soil are worked, short rooted cultivars should be grown. Long rooted cultivars will be misshapen or become forked if they are grown in poorly prepared soil. Carrots are easily grown in containers or in raised beds. A simple raised bed can be made from 2 x 8 foot lumber that is four feet or less wide. The bed can then be filled with a container type soil mixture containing fertilizer, compost, or manure. Soil in this raised bed will warm up more quickly than the surrounding soil, and as a result carrots can be planted earlier in the spring. By being above the surrounding soil, the raised bed will drain more quickly as well, which will prevent the accumulation of water from rains. This helps prevent problems with disease and root decay.
You should select the types of carrot cultivars you intend to grow based on the condition of the soil in your garden bed. All carrot cultivars will grow well in deep sandy loam or loose soils. On heavy or impermeable soils, the short rooted cultivars are the best. Short rooted cultivars are also easy to grow in containers. Using containers allows you to increase the growing area of your garden, and is also a means of how to grow carrots on your balcony, fire escape, or on your windowsill.
2. Planting Carrots
One of the reasons it is a great idea to learn how to grow carrots, especially if you have a small garden, is that you can grow a lot of carrots in a relatively small space. Believe it or not, you can actually grow as many as a hundred and twenty carrots in only one square foot of space! To enjoy carrots all season long, plant a square foot about once every two to three weeks.
2a. Soil Preparation For How To Grow Carrots
Carrots require a soil bed that is dug deeply, is cleared of stones or other debris, is relatively light, and has a pH that is between 6.5 and 7.5, although they will grow in soil that has a pH that is as low as 6.0. They prefer a soil that is rich in phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and micronutrients, but they also prefer a soil that is not to rich in nitrogen. Wood ash as a form of potassium is well loved by carrots. When you are preparing the garden bed, use about half as much nitrogen bearing fertilizer as you would for your other crops. Also, as I will reiterate time and again, avoid any form of fresh manures, especially fresh animal manures, when you are growing carrots. The carrots will wind up tasting just like manure, and your whole crop will be a loss.
You should ideally add fully matured compost in the fall to beds that you intend to use for growing carrots in the following spring. Unfinished compost or manure used as fertilizer for carrots can induce rough and branched roots. Organic materials should be very well composted before you add them to soil that you want to use for how to grow carrots. It is very important that you do not put unfinished compost or manure on any of the garden beds in which you are growing carrots. While branched carrots are still edible and do not lose any of their flavor, they will be more difficult to sell at market (if that is why you are learning how to grow carrots) and also more difficult to store.
Carrots are one vegetable that should always be planted from seed. Because the point of how to grow carrots is the root, and not any of the green or leafy parts of the plant, there is really no point whatsoever in growing seedlings. Carrots also do not benefit much from being started indoors and then transplanted, because they have a rather short growing season and are moderately frost tolerant.
Carrots are among the crops in your vegetable garden that will germinate the most slowly. This slow rate of germination can be somewhat problematic because weeds will most likely sprout before your carrots do, and there is some difficulty in maintaining the optimum levels of soil moisture while they are germinating long enough for the seeds to sprout. I will cover a couple of different techniques for dealing with the problem of moisture in the next few paragraphs, but as for weeds, the only real solution is to simply be vigilant and pull them as soon as you see them sprout.
Carrot seeds should be planted about one half inch deep or less in the early spring. They can be covered with sandy loam, vermiculite, saw dust, or fine peat moss instead of soil. Two to four seeds per inch should be planted. About half of the seeds you plant will be germinated. You can plant carrots in a bed, a wide row, or in single rows about one foot from each other. If you want to know how to grow carrots all season long, you should plant them successively every two to three weeks to ensure a continuous supply is growing. You do not necessarily have to plant your carrots in the soil, but can simply broadcast new seeds (broadcasting is planting by just scattering seeds over the ground) in the growing space. If you are having trouble understanding how to grow carrots by broadcasting them, there is a simple way to practice this method.
Carrots will not tolerate being planted too deep, or being planted in a dry garden bed. The garden bed has to be kept moist during the germination period, which usually means that the area where you have planted the carrot seeds needs to be sprinkled lightly or misted with water every day. Seeds can take up to two weeks to germinate. Many gardeners often will water the garden bed after they have planted their carrot seeds, and then cover the row with a clear plastic sheet. This will help to warm the soil and conserve moisture while still allowing light to penetrate, aiding in germinating the seeds. If you choose to use this method, be sure to remove the plastic sheet as soon as the seedlings begin to emerge.
3. Caring For And Maintaining Your Carrots
There are a number of considerations to bear in mind for how to grow carrots that are healthy and produce a good crop. These include watering and mulching, and preventing green tops, poor stands, and pest management.
If there is no rain, be sure to water your seeded rows every day. Apply the water to the rows gently, or else open a shallow trench in between rows and add water slowly to the trench until it is full This will ensure that the soil below the surface, where the carrots are growing, is getting enough moisture, without stressing them by overwatering the young plants.
After the carrots have become established, you can reduce the amount of water you give them, but be sure that you do not allow the soil to dry out entirely. If it does dry out, you have to restore the soil moisture gradually. This means it is necessary to water the garden bed moderately for several days in a row, instead of giving it one deep drenching. Otherwise you can have roots that are split or have poor flavor. Watering properly is one of the most important aspects to how to grow carrots.
Mulching is best if you are interested in how to grow carrots only once in a bed, or if you are interested in how to grow carrots for seed (which will be discussed later). Otherwise – if you are learning how to grow several bumper crops of carrots all season long – I do not recommend mulching your bed too much, as that will make it difficult for new seedlings to become established. As I mentioned earlier, it is important to make sure that you weed your carrot beds frequently while the seedlings are still very small.
If you are only growing one crop of carrots, thin them to about four to six inches apart once they are established. After you have thinned them, you can mulch the area around the carrots completely with hay or leaf clippings, and pull the mulch close around the seedlings to block out sunlight. This can also help you prevent green tops, which I discuss below.
3c. Poor Stands
The most frequent problem that gardeners encounter when growing carrots is that they have what is called a poor stand. This problem can be solved by making sure you do not plant your carrots too deep; that you make sure to water them lightly but frequently; and that you prevent the soil from crusting over while they are germinating.
3d. Green Tops
The top of the carrot root will become green if it is exposed to sunlight while it is growing. In order to prevent this from happening, the plants should grow rapidly so that the leaves shade the roots. It is a good practice to place more soil around the carrot roots about forty days after you have planted them. You can also place mulch or well composted organic matter around the roots. After forty days the roots begin to enlarge, and covering them with soil or compost will help to prevent any green areas from forming on them.
3e. Controlling For Pests
Carrots have very few insect or disease problems. In the Southwest, however, carrots can be susceptible to a viral disease called carrot yellows. It is carried by an insect called the leaf hopper. Lady beetles, parasitic wasps, and green lacewings are all natural predators of leaf hoppers. You can purchase these insects online and release them into your garden, or you can attract them to your garden naturally by planting certain flowers that they like.
Green lacewings are attracted to dill, coriander, Queen Anne’s lace, fennel, and coriander. Lady beetles are attracted to marigolds, fennel, yarrow, butterfly weed, and prairie sunflowers. Parasitic wasps are attracted to Cosmos, parsley, zinnia, yarrow, and lavender globe lilies. Plant these throughout your vegetable garden, and especially around garden beds that have carrots or other vegetables that pests are attracted to. The flowers will help you to protect your vegetables naturally and will create a healthy, sustainable environment in your garden.
In the Northeast and the Pacific Northwest, an insect called the carrot rust fly can damage your crop. Carrot flies look more or less like a regular housefly, except that they are more streamlined and skinnier. Often you will not see them until it is too late. Once attracted by the smell of carrot leaves, they will zoom in and lay their eggs at the base of the plant’s stem. The larvae of the carrot rust fly burrow into the roots, either killing the plant altogether or at the very least making in inedible. Unfortunately you will not find the problem until you harvest the roots and realize they have gotten to your crop.
To control for the carrot rust fly, you can simply grow your carrots during cooler weather and make sure that they grow to maturity as rapidly as possible. Carrots should be rotated within the vegetable garden area to reduce damage as well.
Another important aspect of how to grow carrots in a way that prevents attracting carrot flies is to make sure that you avoid anything that injures or disturbs the plants’ foliage. Bruised leaves are a powerful attractant to carrot flies. Fortunately, when carrots are spaced very closely together, the plants’ leaves will act as a natural mulch that shades out weeds. Because of this the primary source of bruised foliage – weeding – can be avoided. If you must weed around your carrots, do so with care.
Another great trick that works very well is to attach some wooden stakes to the corners of the raised bed and to wrap a two foot high length of clear plastic around the bed, stapling it to the stakes and the edges of the bed. Carrot flies usually fly rather close to the ground – no higher than eighteen inches – so the plastic wall confuses them and they move on to easier pickings.
Lastly, you can control for carrot flies with wood ashes. If you use wood ashes when you prepare the bed and water the bed every couple of weeks with a mixture of two tablespoons of wood ash per gallon of water, carrot flies will be deterred.
Wire worms are another pest of some concern when you want to understand how to grow carrots. Wire worms are the larvae of click beetles and are usually a problem for your carrot crop when you are growing in areas that were previously planted with sod, or that are abutted by areas that have sod in them. Thus they are a common problem with small farms or gardens in particular because most raised beds are typically located in areas that were previously used for growing lawns. Wire worms burrow into roots much like carrot rust fly larvae, and can similarly damage your carrots or destroy whole crops.
If you surround the frames of your raised beds with a mulch that will smother out any grass, such as a thick layer of bark or gravel, that method can help keep down click beetle and wire worm populations over time. Turning up the soil in the garden bed a couple of days before you plant the carrot seeds will encourage birds to eat the wire worms. You can also bait the wire worms away from your carrot crops by burying a few pieces of cut potato attached to a wooden skewer (to help to find it later) two to four inches below the surface of the soil. Pull up the skewers twice a week and dispose of any potatoes that wire worms have burrowed into. If you put the skewers in to the garden beds that you plan on using for root vegetables, and keep them in place until about a week after the crops have germinated, you will significantly reduce the likelihood of damage from wire worms. You should figure on using about one skewer per four square feet of garden bed space.
4. Harvesting Your Carrots And Saving The Seeds
One of the best reasons to learn how to grow carrots is the fact that you can harvest them all season long. In this section I will explain how to harvest and store your carrots during the first year of growth, and how to gather seeds during the second season. Carrots are biennials, which means they produce seed in their second year of growth only. During the first year, they store energy in the root. If allowed to stay in the ground over the winter, they will sprout the next spring. Carrots will send up a seed stalk with a beautiful flower umbel that is very similar to Queen Anne’s lace. In fact, Queen Anne’s lace is a wild carrot from which our domesticated varieties are derived. Queen Anne’s lace can even interbreed freely with the domesticated carrots in your garden.
4a. Harvesting And Storing Carrots
You can begin to harvest your carrots when they are the size of pencils in order to begin thinning out the row. The more space the roots of the remaining carrots have, the larger they will grow. Continued thinning and harvesting of a densely planted row of carrots can continue for as long as three to six months after they have started maturing. Like many other root vegetables, carrots taste best when they are smaller, although larger ones still taste good. This is because smaller carrots are mostly made up of the outer area of the root – which if you recall, is the area that has the most nutrients and highest sugar content.
To harvest your carrots, water them thoroughly in order to make the roots easier to pull, grasp the foliage as close to the root as possible, and pull upwards while giving it a slight twist. If the tops break off, you can use a digging fork or hand trowel to dig around the effected roots and lift them out gently.
After you harvest the carrots you can then remove the tops – the green stalks and leaves – and then store them in a cool, moist place. Toss the tops in the compost pile. Let the roots sit out in the sun for a couple of hours in order to let the dirt on them dry out, and then shake excess dirt off, or gently dust it off with a soft brush. You should not wash off the carrots until you want to use them.
Carrots that you have harvested can be stored whole for a few months in moistened peat moss or in clean sand. They can also be blanched for four minutes and then either cooled, dried, and frozen or dehydrated. If you dry your carrots thoroughly they can be stored in the refrigerator in a sealed, airtight bag for up to a couple of months. That said, carrots do best if you leave them in the garden bed until the first frost date begins to approach. Heavy mulch can be placed over your carrots until the ground freezes. In areas where mild winters typically occur, you can leave the carrots in the ground until you want to use them.
4b. Seed Saving
Seed saving and hand pollination is a great technique to master when you first learn how to grow carrots. It is not necessary for many other vegetables, but it is a valuable skill in any gardener’s tool kit. I recommend growing at least some of your carrots as a seed crop, allowing them to stay in the ground over the winter, and then using them to learn the skill of pollinating plants by hand. This skill can be especially useful if you intend to grow vegetables indoors that are insect pollinated.
Because wild carrots are so widely distributed and the carrot family is pollinated by insects, I recommend using isolation techniques for saving your carrot seeds. In addition, inbreeding depression can be a problem. Inbreeding depression means that seeds from inbred plants can produce inferior offspring. Because of this, you should ideally save seeds from a population of at least twenty different plants.
Bag the umbels – the flowering, lacy part at the end of the stalk – using a spun polyester material like the kind you would use for a floating row cover, or else a burlap or breathable cloth sack. You should bag them when they have not yet flowered in order to keep insects from getting to them and cross pollinating them. You do not have to bag all of the umbels on every plant, just one from each plant that you will be using for seed saving.
Once the umbels have flowered, use a brush made of horse hair or camel hair to cross pollinate them. This technique is very simple and straightforward. Every day for two to four weeks after the flowers have formed, remove the bags from five or so umbels. If you remove any more bags at one time, you will have trouble keeping insects away from them. Gently rub the brush over the flowers on each umbel, going back and forth so that all the flowers of each umbel have been touched. This will distribute the pollen evenly around all of the flowers. Replace the bags, and then remove the bags from five more umbels and continue until you have processed all of the umbels.
While this may sound like a lot of work, it really isn’t. You should be able to pollinate all twenty flowers in less than ten minutes, and as you get more practice removing the bags and brushing the flowers, it will take less and less time. Soon you will be an expert hand pollinator.
Once the umbels have matured, cut them from the plant and allow them to sit indoors in a cool, dry place for another two weeks. The seeds can be stripped from the umbels by rubbing them with your hands, and then they can be separated from the chaff using a technique called winnowing. This means separating the seeds from the chaff with air. The simplest way to do it is to spread a white or light colored cotton sheet on the floor, and allow the seeds to fall onto it while gently running a fan over the sheet. The fan will blow the chaff away, leaving the seeds to fall cleanly onto the sheet.
As you will have already learned while planting your crop, carrot seeds are tiny! Save them in small envelopes in a cool, dry place. Be sure to label the envelopes so you know what you have next year. Also, be sure to store different varietals in separate envelopes. You can then share your varietals with friends and family, and enjoy taking part in the rich tradition of saving heirloom seeds.
5. Final Word
I hope this guide has been as informative for you to read as it was enjoyable for me to write. In it we have learned a number of important things about how to grow carrots. We learned about the where carrots originated, what they need to grow, and the best varietals of carrots for the home garden. We discussed the best ways to plant and care for them, common problems that you can encounter when you learn how to grow carrots, and how to harvest and save carrots and seeds. Growing carrots can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience, and learning how to grow carrots is not a particularly difficult endeavor.