For years I tried to grow carrots, they came out short, stubby, impossible to peel, and tangled up with other carrots. It wasn’t until I started growing my produce in raised beds did I find success in growing this perfectly long, straight, and easy to peel, delicious colorful root crop, growing specifically in 14-inch-deep raised cedar beds.
But, the deep raised beds are only part of the equation, choosing the right carrot seed, planting them with the proper spacing and thinning whenever needed all lead to the perfect carrot.
Choosing the Right Variety
First, you have to think about what you want your carrots for: snacking, canning, freezing, cooked fresh for dinner, juicing, store for winter use, feeding your livestock, or decorating a plate.
I process mine, can them, so I wanted a long, fat carrot that will taste good after pressure canning; for this reason, I now tend to mostly grow the Imperator variety. It takes less time to peel, cut and can a large quantity Imperators, than, say, Danvers-half-long, although both are good storage carrots Danvers are not as long as Imperators. If I am going to take up space in the garden I want to maximize my yield, so going with a larger, just as tasty, carrot is the wise decision.
Nantes carrots are short with a blunt tip and taste sweet and look great on a plate. They are not a good storage carrot as they tend to be a quite delicate. Nantes have been touted as the best juicing carrot as they tend to absorb more water from the soil and add sweetness to your juice or smoothie.
Chantenay carrots are short, fat heirloom carrots, with a blunted tip, that have been known as a summer carrot. You can pull them right out of the garden, hose/wipe them off and eat them right there. They are sweetest if you pick them when they are about 4-5 inches long.
Most carrot varieties are heirloom, meaning you can harvest their seeds for your subsequent crops. But, carrots are biennial (grows for two years), if you let them continue to grow over the winter (frost and snow will not kill them) they will go to seed only in their second year, so you have to wait two years to collect the seeds. Try to keep them away from Queen Anne Lace (wildflower/weed), as they are cross pollinators that will/can contaminate your seeds.
Planting your Seeds
Once you have decided which variety(s) to grow, it’s time to ready your planting box. Carrots will grow straight if the soil is moist, loose, free from weeds, dirt clods and rocks. They do not like a lot of nitrogen and prefer potassium and potash, keep soil pH between 6.0-6.5.
Carrots need to planted directly into its permanent sunny growing spot; they do not transplant well. Carrots are a cool weather crop and germinate best in cool soil, they can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked, they can take some frost, but heavy snow may smash them down too much. A tunnel cover can be used to cover the crops if you expect snow.
Carrots need to be planted 3” apart, the best way to get the correct spacing is to use a seed spacer. I pour the tiny seeds on the seed spacer and drag a seed or two to the correct hole. (The seed spacer is a square-foot plate that has a series of patterned wholes of different sizes and shapes that are dependent upon the spacing requirements of the plant and seed you are sowing.)
The proper spacing for a carrot allows 16 carrots per square-foot: that’s 128 carrots for every 8 square feet. Once the seed has been placed in the holes, carefully lift off the seed spacer and place it in the next square foot section. Cover the newly placed seeds with light soil or peat moss. Once you have finished sowing the seeds, lightly water the bed; using the mist setting on a sprayer nozzle is best so you don’t wash away the seeds. Keep the soil moist at all times, and wait, it takes 14-21 days for carrot seeds to germinate.
The carrot sprouts will come up in a pattern so if you see a spot that is empty, you can easily fill it in with another seed. Also, if you see that two seeds came up in the same location, pull or cut (thin) one of them, you only want one carrot every 3 inches. DO NOT wait until the seedlings are bigger, do it right away (before the first set of true leaves) or else the remaining carrot will get twisty or stunted. I know I said that carrots do not transplant well, but, I have been known to move a sprout to a new location taking extra care to make sure the tiny root stays straight, it’s another way to fill in an un-germinated spot.
Keep the bed free of any weeds. If you have planted in a nutrient rich soil to begin with you really don’t need to feed the carrots during their growth period, just make sure they are well watered.
I grow our carrots without any type of pesticides or fertilizers. We use companion planting to keep bad bugs away and attract good bugs to the garden. When planted close by leeks, onions, chives, garlic, rosemary, and sage all repel the carrot fly that can damage your crop.
After about 70 days or so (look at your seed packet for harvest/maturity date) check your carrots, feel around the top of a carrot, or pull one up out of the ground to see how big the root is. You can pull them as needed or leave them in the ground. Some people say that the cold weather makes the carrots sweeter, I don’t know about that because I process all of mine in the fall before it gets cold.
After your growing season is over allow your chickens and/or ducks to roam your garden beds to dig up and eat any grubs or bugs left in the soil. If you do not have chickens or ducks you’ll need to dig around in the boxes to pull out any bad bugs, leave the earthworms!!
If you are going to can your carrots they require pressure canning only, DO NOT water-bath. Always follow approved canning methods. Carrots can stay in cold storage (32 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit with 90-95 % humidity) if you prepare them correctly. Layer the unwashed carrots in sand and store in your cold root cellar. Check often for rotting vegetables and remove if found. Fresh carrots can stay in your refrigerator for several weeks.
Don’t forget to plant a fall garden of carrots too, just make sure you rotate your growing space and replenish the nutrients in your soil with compost.