Sweet, delicate carrots that can’t be found in supermarkets are among a home gardener’s greatest culinary rewards. Find out how to grow several varieties such as nantes, chantenay, imperator, miniature and danvers in your garden at home.
When to Plant Carrots
In the spring, sow carrot seeds in fertile, well-worked soil about two weeks before your last frost date. In cool climates, continue planting every three weeks until midsummer.
In summer, begin sowing seeds for fall and winter carrots 10 to 12 weeks before your average first fall frost. Many gardeners plant carrots after their spring peas are finished.
How to Grow Carrots
Prepare the planting bed by loosening the soil to at least 12 inches deep. Thoroughly mix in a 1-inch layer of mature compost or a half-inch layer of vermicompost (carrots love what earthworms leave behind).
Sow your seeds about a quarter-inch deep and 2 inches apart, in rows spaced at least 10 inches apart; carrots do well in double or triple rows. Thin seedlings to 4 to 6 inches apart, depending on the variety’s mature size.
Carrot Growing Tips
- Keep the soil moist for at least 10 consecutive days after sowing, because carrots take longer to germinate than other vegetables. To reduce surface evaporation during the germination period, cover newly seeded soil with boards or old blankets for five to six days. Check daily, and remove the covers as soon as the first seeds germinate. Seeds germinate best when soil temperatures range between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Reduce weed competition by sowing carrot seeds in shallow furrows filled with weed-free potting soil. Cover the ground between rows with newspapers topped by a mulch of grass clippings.
- Sow carrots with a “nurse crop” of radishes. The fast-growing radishes will shelter tiny carrot seedlings while helping to suppress weeds.
- Be stingy with nitrogen. Among fertilizers, carrots favor compost or vermicompost worked into the soil prior to planting; they respond to abundant phosphorous and potassium more than to high nitrogen levels. Carrots take up nutrients best in soil with a pH between 5.8 and 7.0. Use lime to raise the pH of acidic soil.
- Harvest carefully. Before pulling carrots, use a digging fork to loosen the soil just outside the row.
- Harvest small blossom clusters from overwintered plants to use as cut flowers. Thinning the blossoms helps the plants channel energy to the biggest seed-bearing umbels (flower clusters springing from the same point).
- Max out the season. To eat carrots year round, grow fast-maturing varieties in spring, and make summer sowings for a season-stretching fall crop.
- Use soaker hoses or drip irrigation lines to keep the soil constantly moist.
- Cover the shoulders of all maturing carrots with mulch to keep them from turning green.
Saving Carrot Seeds
Carrots are biennial and therefore won’t flower and make seed until their second year. In cold climates, open-pollinated carrots kept in cold storage through winter can be replanted in early spring for seed production purposes. When the seed clusters have ripened to brown, collect them in a paper bag. Then allow them to dry for another week indoors before crushing the clusters and gathering the seeds. Discard the smallest seeds. Store the largest seeds in a cool, dry place for up to three years.
Carrot Pest and Disease Prevention Tips
Aster leafhoppers look like one-eighth-inch green slivers, which hop about when the foliage is disturbed. Leafhopper feeding causes light damage, but leafhoppers can spread aster yellows, a disease caused by a tumor-forming bacterium sometimes present in otherwise healthy soils. Trying to eliminate it would be unwise because of its close family ties with nitrogen-fixing rhizobia that benefit legumes. Instead, grow carrots in compost-enriched soil far from grapes and nut or fruit trees, which often host the parasitic bacteria. Use row covers to exclude the leafhoppers.
Row covers also protect a crop from carrot rust flies and carrot weevils, which make grooves and tunnels in carrots as they feed.
Hairy or misshapen roots can be caused by excessive nitrogen or aster yellows disease.
Carrots Varieties to Grow
- Varieties: ‘Early Nantes’ ‘Nelson’ ‘Mokum’
- 55-70 days (spring) 6-75 days (fall)
- Nantes are fast and adapt quickly to a range of climates and soils. They have straight, cylindrical roots 5 to 7 inches long; sweet flavor and crisp texture; limited storage potential. Grow in loose, sandy soil or in raised beds enriched with plenty of organic matter, but no fresh manure.
- Varieties: ‘Red Core’ ‘Kuttiger’ ‘Kurota’
- 55-70 days (spring) 70-110 days (fall)
- Excellent type to grow from summer to fall, and not as picky about soil as other types. Usually sizes up well in clay soils with high organic matter content. Conical roots with broad shoulders and rounded tips; rich, sweet flavor and good storage potential. They develop stocky roots that become sweeter as the soil cools in the fall.
- Varieties: ‘Thumbelina’ ‘Little Finger’ ‘Parmex’
- 50-60 days (spring) 60-70 days (fall)
- Grows in any fertile soil that drains well. They’re good for heavy clay soil. Round, cylindrical or tapered shallow roots less than 5 inches long; crisp texture and frequently quite sweet when mature; limited storage potential. Makes good “marker” plants to separate sowings of salad greens.
- Varieties: ‘Yellowstone’ ‘Purple Haze’ ‘Sugarsnax’
- 55-100 day (spring) 80-110 days (fall)
- Imperator carrots are long and need deep, sandy soil to thrive. When pleased with their site, roots can become quite large. Long, tapered roots with stocky shoulders and strong tops; slightly fibrous texture. Stores well.
- Varieties:‘Danvers’ ‘Healthmaster’ ‘Danvers Half Long’
- 70 to 80 days (spring) 80 to 110 days (fall)
- Grow in raised beds or in deep, sandy soil. Good main crop type for cool climates. Thick-rooted cylindrical shape, often with yellowish core; widely used in processing, good for juicing and sturdy roots store well, too.
Harvesting and Storing Carrots
Pull or dig spring-sown carrots when roots reach mature size and show rich color. Taste improves as carrots mature, but do not leave mature carrots in warm soil any longer than necessary (many critters like carrots). Summer-sown carrots that mature in cool fall soil can be left in the ground longer, but should be dug before the ground freezes to preserve their quality. Remove tops to prevent moisture loss, rinse clean, and store in a refrigerator or cold root cellar. Most varieties keep for several months in the fridge. Carrots also may be canned, pickled, dried or frozen.
Carrots will caramelize with their own sugars when braised in a little oil or grilled until tender. Grate raw carrots into muffins, cakes or pancakes to provide moisture and extra vitamin A. Use carrots generously to bring nutritious color to salads, stir-fries and soups. Try steamed carrots with fresh mint and a dab of honey or brown sugar. Orange and yellow carrots are great as nutritious raw snacks, but red carrots taste best cooked.
For more information about growing carrots, read Growing Carrots: Carrot Varieties, Soil Conditions and Harvest Times.
(For details on growing many other vegetables and fruits, visit our Crop at a Glance collection page.)
Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens.
Originally published as “All About Growing Carrots” August/September 2008 MOTHER EARTH NEWS.