Days to germination: 10 to 15 days
Days to harvest: 100 days
Light requirements: Full sun, or partial shade
Water requirements: Water consistently
Soil: Very loose soil, minimal organic matter
Container: Ideal for shorter varieties
Carrots are an easy vegetable to grow, and have a place in almost any home garden. You can harvest large mature carrots, or pick them early for a sweet baby carrot treat. Some varieties are naturally short, making them a good choice for container gardening.
They are a versatile vegetable that can be eaten raw or cooked. Grated carrots can add some extra vitamins to breads and muffins too. Carrots are particularly high in beta-carotene (vitamin A), fiber and vitamin C. You get the most nutrition out of carrots if you leave the peels on.
Starting from Seed
Considering it can take weeks for tiny carrot seeds to germinate, it makes the most sense to plant them directly into your garden. They are not typically transplanted.
Dig the soil down as deep as you expect your carrots to grow, at least 12 inches deep. Don’t add excessive fertilizer or fresh manure, or you can end up with misshapen carrots. Remove all the rocks, even the small ones. Carrots can’t grow through rock.
Plant your carrots about 2 to 3 weeks before your last frost date. If you want to have a more continuous harvest of mature carrots, do several sowings through the first part of the season. That way you’ll have fresh carrots for a longer period.
Carrot seeds are extremely small, which makes it difficult to space them out precisely. The usual process is to plant them in rows, just sprinkling the seeds along shallow trench about an inch deep. Cover the seeds lightly, but don’t press the soil down over them.
Try to keep the soil moist while they germinate, but don’t water too much or you will just wash away the little seeds. This is probably the trickiest part about growing carrots.
If too many of your seeds sprout, you can thin them out. Don’t pull up the seedlings or you’ll likely disturb or damage the remaining ones. Use scissors to clip the extras. Another option is to let them continue growing and only start to thin them once they start to produce carrots. Then you can pull up the smaller carrots and actually enjoy a bit of fresh carrot rather than let them go to waste.
Once you manage to get your carrot seeds to sprout, most of the hard work is done. You should take care to water very regularly and not let them dry out completely. Irregular watering can lead to uneven growth and strangely shaped carrots. It won’t necessarily harm the carrots, but they can look very odd and can actually split.
Keep your carrot patch weed-free, especially during the first several weeks of growth. The tiny seedlings don’t compete well. Be careful not to disturb the new plants when you pull the weeds.
Carrots are great for container gardening, particularly if you plant varieties that produce short carrots. Royal Chantenay carrots are about 5 inches long at maturity, but produce very fat carrots. Little Fingers or Mignon are even shorter (around 3 inches), with more typical slender roots. Any of these will work fine in containers.
Fill your container with very loose soil or even just potting mix. Seeds just as you would in the garden. Since containers are usually pretty weed-free, it can actually be easier to grow carrots this way.
Pests and Diseases
One of the biggest problems for home gardeners is deformed carrots, and it’s not caused by any insect or disease. For nice straight carrots, you need to get the soil well-dug and stone free. Knobby carrots can also form if you water irregularly.
For insect pests, you need to watch out for the Carrot Rust Fly. They lay their eggs on the tops of the carrots, and their larvae dig in and chew on the carrot root. It won’t kill the plant, but the rest of the root will end up rotting. If they are common in your area, try to plant your carrots later in the season to avoid the worst infestations. To protect your plants, you can buy yellow sticky traps that can help keep the adult flies off your carrots. Insecticide sprays can also help control the adults but won’t do much for the larvae underground.
Click beetle larvae are called wireworms, and can also make a meal of your growing carrots. They prefer moist soil, so keeping your carrot bed well-drained and not over-watered can help. Some gardeners have found that planting mustard plants among the carrots can help deter the wireworms.
Harvest and Storage
You can check to see if your carrots are ready by brushing aside the earth and seeing the size of the root tops. They can be picked at any point, with the smaller carrots being quite sweet compared to the more mature ones. If your soil is loose, you should be able to just pull the roots out by the tops. A shovel might come in handy if they don’t pull easily.
The yield you get will wholly depend on how many seeds you plant, which you will unlikely know until after they have sprouted. Obviously, each seed will produce one carrot, so you can always count the seedlings once they have started to grow.
If the tops of your carrots are green, that just means they got a bit too much sunlight while they were growing. The rest of the root is fine and you can just cut off the green top portion.
Carrots store really easily, and can be kept in a cool moist place for months. A bucket or barrel with damp sawdust is ideal for storing a large number of carrots. If you live in an area that doesn’t get too cold during the winter, you can even just leave the carrots in the ground. Digging up fresh carrots in the winter is fun.