A cool weather crop, carrots come in a range of colors from the traditional orange to yellow, purple, white and crimson. They can also be grown in containers and raised beds. This makes this root crop a great choice for gardeners with limited space.
With the help of this guide you will learn everything you need to know to learn how to grow carrots successfully.
Take the time to properly learn how to grow carrots. Your patience and efforts will be rewarded with pleasingly taste packed harvests of this popular cool weather crop. Despite being a root crop the different varieties on offer, as well as the plants willingness to grow in containers means that gardeners in smaller spaces or with poor soil need not miss out.
Choosing a Variety of Carrot
The first thing you need to learn on your how to grow carrots journey is the difference between the carrot varieties. There are 5 main types of carrot:
- Ball type
The first three types, Ball Chantenay and Danvers produce carrots that are large and blocky. These are able to handle heavy and shallow soil.
If you want to learn how to grow carrots that are more slender select either of the last two types, Nantes or Imperator. Either of these varieties thrive in deep or loose soil.
All 5 varieties have both early and late season cultivars. Many are both disease and crack resistant.
These 5 types can all be split into two groups- early varieties and late varieties. Early varieties can be sown in the spring, from March onwards. They are usually ready for harvest about 10 weeks after sowing. Late varieties are sown from the end of spring into late June. They are ready for harvest around 16 weeks after sowing.
When learning how to grow carrots it is best to stick to sowing and growing during the main season, late March until June. As you become more experienced you can experiment with earlier or later sowings. These can be protected from the elements by a cloche or fleece.
Many people are familiar with the common long, orange carrot. However they also come in a range of shapes, sizes and colors. Learning how to grow carrots will enable you to explore this variety.
One of the most difficult decisions you make when learning how to grow carrots is which variety to try. There are many different cultivars available so take your time and find some that really appeal to you. Amongst the most popular is Parmex AGM. This is a short, round rooted carrot. It is ideal for container gardens or growbags.
If you want a traditional carrot try Autumn King 2. This is a classic looking orange variety that is late to mature. For something a little different try the heirloom varieties Red Cored Chantenay, which produces red roots, or the bright yellow Solar Yellow variety.
Some gardeners may find that their efforts are blighted by pests. This should not stop you from learning how to grow carrots. Many varieties are pest or blight resistant. Bolero is resistant to most leaf pests and many forms of blight. The sweet, orange cultivar Flyaway is noted for its resistance to carrot fly.
Choosing Your Location
As you learn how to grow carrots you will discover that they do best in full sun positions. However they will also tolerate partial shade.
They also do best in loose, sandy soil types. The lighter or airier the soil the easier the roots will be able to move and develop.
One of the most important aspects of learning how to grow carrots is preparing the soil correctly. Unprepared, stoney or compacted soil can lead to crops becoming stunted or misshapen.
If your soil is a heavy clay type you may enjoy more success growing your crop in a container or carrot grow bag. Short rooted varieties best suit container gardens. Gardeners with overly rocky soil may also benefit from growing short rooted varieties.
To prepare the soil till down at least 12 inches. Make sure that there are no stones, rocks or other objects in the soil. You must also need to break up any clumps of soil that you discover.
Before sowing or planting make sure that you properly prepare the soil. Digging over the soil to break up compacted clumps of earth and remove rocks will enable the carrot to grow a long, straight healthy root.
Avoid working in nitrogen-rich material such as manure or fertilizer. These can encourage carrot roots to fork, or produce small side roots.
If you are growing in containers or special carrot grow bags, fill your chosen container with fresh general purpose soil or compost. Running the material through your hands as you fill the container helps to ensure that the soil is loose and clump-free. This helps the carrots to grow as uniformly as possible. Unfortunately, as you will discover as you learn how to grow carrots, however much you prepare your soil there will always be some carrots that grow in peculiar or interesting shapes.
How to Grow Carrots From Seed
The next stage in your how to grow carrots journey is sowing the seeds.
Like most root crops you should sow carrot seeds directly into their final position. Avoid transplanting.
Sow 3-5 weeks before your last local frost date.
Sow seeds as thinly as possible. A seed sower can help. If you do find the seeds clumping together you will need to thin them out once they have germinated. Ideally the seeds will be a quarter of an inch deep and 3-4 inches apart, depending on the variety. Each row should be spaced about 1 ft apart. Cover the seeds with a layer of fine compost or vermiculite.
For successive harvests, sow seeds at 3 week intervals. Most varieties will take between 70 and 80 days to mature. Sow your last set of seeds 2-3 months before your first expected frost of the winter. This ensures you won’t lose any crops to the colder temperatures. In USDA zones 8 and warmer plants can be planted in the fall or winter months.
Keep the soil moist by gently watering on a regular basis. Regular watering also helps to prevent a hard crust of soil from forming. This can stop small seeds from germinating.
Germination can take up to 3 weeks.
How to Care for Carrots
Once germinated there are a few simple things you need to remember. Following these simple steps will ensure you learn how to grow carrots successfully.
As the plants grow you may need to thin them out to their correct spacing. Crowded plants will produce misshapen or deformed roots.
When the tops of the plants are 2 inches high, thin to 1 inch apart. Two weeks later thin again to a spacing of between 3-4 inches. This final distance will depend on the variety you are growing. Consult the seed packet for the exact distance.
As roots mature the crowns may push up through the soil. Cover these with soil or mulch, such as homemade compost. Uncovered crowns can become bitter. They may also turn green.
Watering and Feeding
Water only when the soil becomes dry. Avoid watering dry soil in one large deluge, this can cause roots to split. Instead moisten the soil gradually over a couple of days. A soil moisture gauge is useful if you want to monitor your soil condition accurately.
Mulching around the plants will help the soil to retain moisture. It will also reduce weed growth.
Feed the crop with a low nitrogen fertilizer that is high in potassium and phosphates. This can be applied 5 to 6 weeks after sowing the seeds.
As the plants grow it is important to keep the soil moist. You will also need to regularly weed around the plants. This is particularly important when the seedlings are small and prone to being smothered by quick growing weeds.
Weeds are fast to grow and can quickly smother nearby plants and seedlings. Regularly hand weed between your rows of carrots. As you weed be careful not to overly disturb the roots of the plant. Don’t crush the carrot foliage as you weed. The scent emitted by crushed foliage can attract harmful carrot flies.
Common Carrot Growing Problems
Carrot fly is a particularly destructive pest. Most active between May and October the larvae of these small black flies feed on carrot roots. The larvae also tunnels into the root causing rot.
Once carrot fly is present you can’t get rid of it. Prevention, therefore, is essential. Cover young crops with fleece tunnels. Alternatively surrounding the crops with 2 ft high barriers of polythene will prevent the low-flying female flies from targeting your crop.
Some varieties such as Flyaway, and Resistafly are resistant to carrot fly.
A similar pest is the carrot rust fly. Most common in the northwest the larvae of these small, green flies target the roots of plants. At their most problematic in the spring, many gardeners delay planting until early summer. Alternatively covering the crops with a protective mesh or floating row will offer some protection.
Aphid infestations are best washed away with a blast from a hosepipe. An application of soapy water or neem oil can also be used to get rid of particularly persistent infestations.
Whether you are learning how to grow carrots alongside other crops or you are an experienced gardener, you should plan your garden to take advantage of companion planting.
You will find as you learn how to grow carrots that they are a popular companion plant. They work particularly well with tomatoes. Tomatoes produce a chemical called solanine. This repels carrot flies. Additionally, tomato plants provide shade to keep the carrot crop cool. Onions and leeks also emit scents that deter carrot flies and other pests.
Many people like to grow Chives alongside carrots. The fragrance of the Chive plants can help to enhance the flavor of the carrot roots. Lettuce, Rosemary and Sage are also commonly planted alongside carrots.
Chives are commonly planted alongside carrot crops. It is believed that this combination can help to enhance the flavor of root vegetables.
Plants to Avoid
Both coriander and dill can release chemicals that stunt carrot growth.
Many gardeners also try to avoid planting celery and parsnips alongside carrot crops. These three plants are all from the same family, meaning they are vulnerable to the same pests. Planting together increases the chances of a devastating infestation.
How to Grow Carrots: Harvesting and Storing
To check the size of your carrot crop gently remove soil from the top of the root. When the root is the same size as a finger it can be harvested. However, the bigger they are the more flavor these roots have.
Harvesting is best done by hand. Spades and forks can bruise the roots. Instead with a trowel carefully loosen the soil around the root. Then hand pull each carrot from the soil. If the crop is difficult to remove try watering the bed. This softens the soil making harvesting easier.
Storing Carrot Crops
To store excess crop for winter use twist off the tops and shake away excess soil. Don’t wash them. Lay undamaged carrots in boxes filled with peat or damp sand. They shouldn’t be allowed to touch. Top the boxes with straw or sand and place in a cool, dark location.
You can also store the crop in the garden. Simply mulch the bed with a thick layer of dry leaves or straw.
Easy to cultivate, if you take the time to learn how to grow carrots you will be rewarded with a regular supply of great tasting, nutritious vegetables. Coming in a range of colors and shapes this root vegetable forms a staple part of many vegetable and kitchen gardens.
Easy to cultivate and care for carrot plants are a popular addition to large, small and container gardens. A reliable crop, now that you know how to grow carrots you will soon be enjoying their great, fresh flavor.