Growing Crops: Carrots

Carrots come in a number of shapes, sizes, and colors – those long, orange, somewhat bland carrots you see at the supermarket are but the tip of the iceberg. Carrots are divided into several groups comprised of many varieties.

The Long group includes the Gold Pak, Imperator, Sweetness II, and Tendersweet varieties.

The Medium group includes the Artist, Coreless Nantes, Danvers Half Long, Nantes, Nantes Half Long, Napoli, Red Cored Chantenay/Goldinhart, Royal Chantenay, Scarlet Nantes, and Touchon varieties.

The Short (or Ball) group includes the Parmex, Planet, and Thumbelina varieties.

The Finger group includes the Baby Spike, Little Finger, and Minicor varieties.

That list is not all-inclusive. There are others to choose from. Nature Hills Nursery has a varied selection of carrots to choose from; check out your choices by clicking on their banner at the top of the page. If you’re still having a hard time deciding what variety you’d like to grow…problem solved – grow yourself a rainbow:

Best Climate to Grow: Carrots are a hardy root vegetable that will thrive almost anywhere, and can stay in the ground over the winter – provided you do not live in an area where the ground freezes.

Light Requirements: Full sun.

Soil Requirements: Double-tilled, fertile, slightly acidic soil (6-6.8 pH) with good drainage, cleared of stones and other debris that will interfere with the downward growth. Amend as needed, or, if your soil is heavier, consider planting the Short/Ball or Finger varieties, as they do not need to grow so far down.

Feeding and Water Requirements: Carrots require little to no feeding, provided the soil was healthy to begin with. They must be kept moist at all times, so drip irrigation and thick mulching are a must.

When to Plant: Sow directly in the garden at 2 week intervals beginning in early Spring no more than a month before the last frost, and finishing by mid Summer; this will avoid a glut of carrots all at once and assure a continuous harvest throughout the growing season.

Planting Depth and Spacing: Carrot seeds are impossibly tiny, and are best mixed with sand or dry coffee grounds before sowing (you could also mix them with radish seeds, as the radishes will be ready to harvest well before the carrots, taking care of most of your thinning needs for you). Scatter the seed mixture thinly, ½ inch deep in rows that are at least 8 inches apart, and thin the seedlings to 3 inches apart once the greens are about 2 inches high, making sure to press down the soil around the remaining seedlings.

Container Requirements: The Short/Ball and Finger varieties are your best bet for container growing, though the Medium varieties will also do well. Choose a container that is at least 12 inches deep if you are going for the medium varieties, just to make sure your roots have plenty of room to grow. Successive sowing, feeding, and watering are much the same as with carrots grown outside in the ground – you may need to water more frequently due to containers being inherently drier. Use drip irrigation specific to container gardening, and keep a thick layer of mulch around your carrots to retain moisture.

Harvesting and Storage: Simply grasp the base of the greens and gently pull out of the ground – you may need help with your garden trowel or Hori Hori knife if you have dense, heavy soil, just be careful not to damage the carrot itself or its neighbors when doing so. Carrots are excellent for canning, and will store for several months in an airtight container kept in a cool, dry place. They can also overwinter in the garden, provided they are protected from freezing with a deep layer of mulch (6-12 inches).

Harvesting Seeds: Carrots are a biennial crop grown as an annual, so leaving a good number of them in the ground over the winter will result in flower formation the second year. Or you could plant a meandering, ornamental row of carrots strictly to harvest for seed. Allow the flowers to dry out and then carefully snip the stalks with garden shears and take them inside. The best seeds are found in the top few flower clusters (called umbels) on each stalk. Extract the seed heads from each umbel and put them in a fine mesh strainer. Shake the strainer back and forth to separate the seeds from the chaff. Store the seeds in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Pests to Monitor: Carrot Root Flies. Interplanting Spring onions (at a ratio of 4:1) with carrots will help deter them, as the onions overpower the smell of the carrot greens. For additional help with these critters, visit our pest control beneficials, barriers, scare tactics, homemade organic pesticide, and commercial organic pesticide pages to see your options and choose your weapons.

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