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 on growing carrots you will learn everything you need to know to learn how to grow carrots (Daucus carota) successfully. Carrots are easy to grow and harvested carrots can be stored for later use.
Take the time to properly learn how to grow carrots. After successfully growing carrots (Daucus carota), your patience and efforts growing carrots will be richly 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 on growing carrots.
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 varieties:
- 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 carrots (Daucus carota) 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 of carrot plants to try. There are many different cultivars available so take your time and find some that really appeal to you. Amongst the most popular for growing carrots is Parmex AGM. This is a short, round rooted carrot. It is ideal for growing carrots in 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.
Carrots have a higher amount of fiber and beta-carotene, and they have higher vitamin A, C, and K levels plus copper and iron. Many people claim that carrots are good for your eyes, and they’re absolutely correct. Vitamin A is what supports your eye health, and carrots, especially raw ones, are packed with vitamin A.
Raw carrots also have higher pectin levels, and this is a form of fiber that can work to lower your cholesterol. The high vitamin content also boosts your immune system, and they could help regulate your blood sugar levels and lower your blood pressure.
As a bonus, carrots have cancer-fighting effects and they can help reduce the amount of free radicals in your body. This can potentially lower your chances of developing leukemia, colorectal cancer, lung cancer, and prostate cancer.
Carrots are also a surprisingly versatile vegetable. Raw carrot sticks make a quick and easy snack, and you can often find them included in stir-fries, stews, and soups. Sliced and cooked carrots make a colorful and delicious side dish, and you can season them to be savory or sweet. Let’s not forget about the carrot cake dessert!
Choosing Your Location
As you learn how to grow carrots you will discover that they do best in full sun positions. However if full sun is not available they will also tolerate partial shade.
They also do best in loose, sandy soil types. The lighter or airier 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 deep. 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 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 carrot seeds.
Like most root crops you should sow carrot seeds directly into their final position. Avoid transplanting.
Sow three weeks to five weeks before the last frost date. Carrots grow best in cooler temperatures in early spring.
Sow carrot seeds as thinly as possible to help them grow best. 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. Use row cover for the seeds – such as 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 carrots on a regular basis. Regular watering carrots also helps to prevent a hard crust of soil from forming. This can stop small seeds from germinating.
Germination of carrots can take up to 3 weeks.
How to Care for Carrots
Once germinated there are a few simple things you need to remember to care for carrots. Following these simple steps will ensure you learn how to grow carrots successfully.
As the plants grow you may need to thin the carrots out to their correct spacing. Crowded plants will produce misshapen or deformed roots.
When the carrot tops of the plants are 2 inches high, thin the carrot tops to 1 inch apart. Two weeks later thin the carrot tops again to a spacing of between 3-4 inches. This final distance will depend on the variety of carrots you are growing. Consult the seed packet for the exact distance.
As roots of the carrots mature the crowns may push up through the soil. Cover these with soil or mulch, such as homemade compost. Uncovered crowns can become bitter. The carrots 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 of the carrots.
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 carrot 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 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 a carrot fly is present you can’t get rid of it. Prevention, therefore, is essential. Cover young crops of carrots with fleece tunnels. Alternatively surrounding the crops of carrots with 2 ft high barriers of polythene will prevent the low-flying female flies from targeting your crop.
Some varieties of carrots such as Flyaway, and Resistafly are resistant to the 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 early 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 when you plant carrots.
You will find as you learn how to grow carrots that they are a popular companion plant. Carrots work particularly well with tomatoes. Tomatoes produce a chemical called solanine. This repels carrot flies. Additionally, tomato plants provide shade to keep the crop cool. Onions and leeks also emit scents that deter 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: Harvest Carrots
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 after you plant carrots.
Harvesting carrots is best done by hand. Spades and forks can bruise the roots when you harvest carrots. Instead with a trowel carefully loosen the soil around the root. Then hand pull each carrot as you loosen the soil. If the crop is difficult to remove try watering the bed. This softens the loose 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.
You should blanch most vegetables before you freeze them. Blanching requires scalding your carrots in boiling water for several minutes before plunging them into icy water to stop the cooking process very quickly. Enzyme action will cause any raw vegetables you put into the freezer to lose their texture, color and flavor to eventually spoil, but blanching prevents this from happening. It also ensures that your carrot’s surface is free of dirt, and it helps retain vitamins while keeping the color nice.
If you plan to use your frozen carrots within 90 days, you can freeze them without going through the blanching process. Their texture will change though. To freeze them, wash your carrots, pat them dry, and then peel them. Chop or slice them up before blanching them in boiling water for two minutes. Transfer them to ice water to stop the cooking process, and allow the carrots to sit in the ice water until they’re cold to the touch.
Drain your carrots well and put them in a single layer on a lined cookie sheet before transferring the cookie sheet and carrots into the freezer for several hours to overnight. Remove the frozen carrots and put them in freezer bags. Try to get rid of as much air as possible, date and label the bags, and return them to the freezer as quickly as you can.
You should eat your frozen carrots within nine months if you store them in the freezer compartment of your refrigerator. If you put them in a chest freezer in vacuum-packed bags, you can keep them for up to 14-months.
You can also easily dehydrate carrots if space is at a premium and you want to preserve them longer. You start the dehydration process just like you do the freezing one. Wash your carrots and pat them dry before peeling them and chopping or slicing them up. Blanch the batch in boiling water for a few minutes before submerging them into an ice bath and draining well once the carrots are cold to the touch.
Spread your blanched carrots out on your dehydrator tray in a single layer before setting your temperature to 125-degrees Fahrenheit. It can take between 12 and 24-hours to fully dehydrate your carrots. You want them to be crispy-to-leathery when they finish. They should also shrink down a lot. You can store them in an airtight jar.
How to Use Carrot Greens
Many people don’t eat the carrot tops or greens because they mistakenly think that they’re poisonous. However, they’re actually safe to eat. You’ll get a more peppery flavor with them that is very similar to parsley or arugula. Carrot greens can bring the same mild spice to a dish. When you cook them, you do want to remove the more fibrous stems, just like you would with dill or parsley.
A lot of people wouldn’t dare cut into a juicy steak without a nice spoonful of tangy, herbal chimichurri on the plate. You’ll make an oil-based sauce that is full of parsley and pepper flakes, and you can pile it on a baguette stuffed with grilled sausage to make a filling snack. Carrot tops, with the slightly spicy flavor profile, will fit right into this condiment.
Pesto is a very popular Italian herb spread or sauce that has a full basil-filled flavor to it that works well with sandwiches, pasta, paninis, and more. You can experiment with substituting some basil leaves with carrot greens. The fronds will give your pesto a small hit of spice, but you can easily mellow it out with a delicious and fatty cheese or nuts to make a nice snack.
Carrot tops can add a fresh, slightly astringent flavor to soup stock to liven it up like a few parsley sprigs would. You can also easily build your soup up around the carrot greens to create a very filling, fresh, and slightly spicy recipe that is perfect for those colder winter or fall days.
A few very finely minced carrot tops can fit nicely into virtually any salad recipe. They’re very good in salads that contain soft butter lettuce because the bitter edge brings in a nice contrast. If you add just a few carrot tops into your salads, it can wake up your taste buds just like chili flakes will to a pizza. You can also have a heavier hand when you add them to fattoush, panzanella, or tabbouleh. If you do, substitute the whole parsley amount listed for carrot tops.
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.
Carrots Frequently Asked Questions
It’s common to have questions when you start growing, using or storing carrots. The more you know about this versatile vegetable, the better your knowledge base will be. In turn, you stand higher chances of getting a full harvest.
1. Is it okay to eat carrots every day?
In moderation, carrots can be good for your health. However, eating carrots in excess can cause you to develop a condition called carotenemia. If you do, you’ll end up with a yellowish discoloration in your skin due to the carrots depositing beta-carotene into it. You need between 20 to 50 milligrams of beta-carotenes per day for weeks, and this works out to roughly 10 carrots a day.
2. Is it better to eat your carrots cooked or raw?
Generally speaking, cooking carrots is better for you over eating them raw. Cooking your carrots will release the hidden pockets of beta-carotene. If you eat them raw, you only get 3% beta-carotene. However, cooking them boosts the amount up to around 40%.
3. Will boiling carrots destroy the nutrient content?
No, because the vitamins you find in carrots are fat-soluble. This includes vitamins A, E, and K. They’re also heat-stable, so this means that boiling them won’t destroy them. In fact, boiling your carrots can help break down the vegetable’s cell walls, and this results in a greater nutrient release.
4. Do carrots help you lose weight?
Since carrots are low in calories and have a higher fiber content, they’re considered to be an excellent weight loss aid. One glass of carrot juice has enough fiber to keep you full until lunch, and this can stop you from mindlessly snacking. Carrot juice also assists with bile secretion, and this helps to burn fat and lose weight.
5. Can you can carrots to preserve them?
You can can carrots, however, you can’t do it unless you pressure can them. Foods with low acidity levels like carrots, potatoes, and green beans require you to pressure can them instead of using a hot water bath. It goes back to a safety factor with botulism spores.
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.