Growing plants for their roots can be tricky, since we can't see what's going on until we harvest. Even experienced gardeners look for helpful ideas on how to grow long, sweet carrots. So often carrots can disappoint with bland, misshapen, tough roots. But given loose soil, some cool weather and plenty of water, there's no reason you can't grow sweet, crunchy carrots.
Carrots are part of the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family, along with dill, fennel and even the wildflower Queen Anne's Lace. You will see the resemblance in the leaves and flowers. Carrots are best known as long, orange roots, but they actually come in several colors and shapes.
- Foliage: Finely dissected, fern-like compound leaves. The leaves are edible, but they contain furocoumarins and may cause allergic skin reactions.
- Flower: Carrot flowers have 5 petals and sepals and are born in compound umbels.
- Roots: Most are about 1-inch in diameter and anywhere from 1-inch to 12 or more inches long.
Mature size will vary greatly with varities. Don't try and harvest too soon, thinking you will get sweet, baby carrots. Small carrots are either a particular variety that matures small or large carrots that have been ground down to baby-size. Immature carrots will not have developed their full sweetness. Root: 1/2'-1 1/2" diameter. Leaves can spread about 6--8 inches and grow to about 8-12" high.
Even though the roots are growing underground, carrot tops need full sun to light shade, for the carrots to grow quickly and develop their sugars.
Days to Harvest / Harvesting and Storing:
Varies with variety, but about 50--75days, from seed.
Harvesting Carrots: Use the days to harvest guide on your seed packet as a guide to knowing when to harvest. Test that the tops of your carrot plants have filled out to the expected diameter by feeling just below the soil line. The only true test is to lift one and taste.
Harvest by twisting and pulling or digging. Remove the leaves, once harvested. The leaves will continue to take energy and moisture from the roots, leaving them limp and lessening the sweetness of your carrots.
Growing Carrots in Containers:
Carrots require a loose well-drained soil. If the developing roots hit a rock or compacted soil, they will fork and deform. If you can't provide loose soil in your vegetable garden, consider growing carrots in a container. The shorter finger-types or small round carrots, like 'Paris Market', are ideal for containers.
- 'Danver's Half Long' - Early, sweet and easy growing.
- 'Imperator' - Long variety that keeps its sweetness and crunch in storage.
- 'Little Finger' - Sweet 3-inch "baby" carrot.
- 'Paris Market' - Plump, round and bite-sized.
How to Grow Carrots - Growing Tips:
Soil:Carrots need a loose, well-draining soil. Rocks and clumps will cause the carrot roots to split and deform. Growing carrots in raised-beds is the ideal situation.
Carrots do not grow well in highly acidic soil. A soil pH in the range of 6.0--6.8 is recommended. And because they are grow for their roots, don't go overboard with nitrogen fertilizer.
When to Plant Carrots: Carrots grow best in cool weather. You can begin planting carrots as soon as the soil ca be worked in the spring, even 2--3 weeks before your last frost. You can succession plant carrots every couple of weeks, throughout the spring.
In warmer climates, you may have better luck growing carrots in the fall, through the winter.
Planting Carrots: Since carrots are grown for their roots, they are direct seeded in the carrot rather than transplanted. Carrot seeds can take up to 15 days to germinate. Keep the soil moist until seedlings appear.
To prevent the soil from crusting over and making it difficult for the seeds to sprout, you can plant the carrot seeds with radish seeds, which will sprout first and loosen the soil.
Carrot seeds are tiny, making it difficult to plant them evenly. Plant them only about 1/4 inch deep. Spacing the seed about an inch apart is ideal, but impractical. Chances are good you will wind up doing some thinning. Thin any plants that are within a 1/2 inch of each other, when the seedlings reach 1--2 inches tall. Snipping or pinching the seedlings off at the soil line is the best way to avoid hurting the remaining roots.
If you need to thin again later, you can use the tiny carrots in salads. When you've finished thinning, your carrots should be far enough apart so they won't rub shoulders when mature.
Water at least 1" every week. Mulching will help conserve water and keep the soil cool.
If your soil is not rich in organic matter, supplemental feeding will be necessary about 2 weeks after the carrots emerge. Any good vegetable fertilizer will do.
To prevent deformed roots, keep the area free of weeds.
Pests & Problems
- Insects: The biggest pest is the carrot rust fly. It lays its eggs in the soil near the carrot top. When the eggs hatch, the larva work their way down into the soil and then into the carrot's roots, where they feed and create tunnels through the carrot. Carrot weevils can do similar damage. You can foil some pests by rotating where you plant each year, but the easiest method is to grow your carrots under row covers.
- Nematodes can become a problem later in the season, causing deformed roots.
- 4-Footed Pests - Even if they don't notice the roots growing below the soil surface, there are plenty of animals that will want to eat the tops off your carrots and a few who will dig deeper. Deer, groundhogs, rabbits, opossum and several others will need to be kept out of the garden.
- Diseases: There are a handful of leaf spot and bacterial diseases that can affect carrots, like Alternaria leaf blight, carrot yellows and bacterial soft rot. There is not much you can do once the plants are infected. Keep a close watch and remove any plants showing signs of disease. Also clean up all debris at the end of the season and move your carrots to a different section of the garden next year.