Soil for growing carrots

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PHOTO: Jessica Walliserby Jessica Walliser March 24, 2014

While straight carrots might not taste any better than crooked or forked ones, they sure are easier to harvest and handle in the kitchen—not to mention a better sell at market. And no farmer enjoys tossing pest-damaged carrots on to the compost pile. While less-than-perfect carrots aren’t the end of the world, growing straight, pest-free roots isn’t as difficult as you might think. Here are six soil-management tasks to ensure your best carrot crop yet.

1. Prepare a Cozy Bed
Depending on the variety, carrots can plunge down 7 or 8 inches into the soil. This means that for straight, uniform roots, a deep seed bed is an absolute necessity. Carrots grow best in loose, friable soil tilled to a depth of 10 to 12 inches, and because they’ll fork when they hit an obstacle, removing rocks and debris from the soil is a must.

2. Fertilize with Phosphorus
Carrots, like most root crops, require a good amount of phosphorus to perform their best. Because carrots have a single, thick taproot rather than many small fibrous roots, the zone from which they can absorb phosphorus is relatively small. (Believe it or not, the root-surface area of even a large carrot is nowhere near as large as the root-surface area of a plant with more fibrous roots, like a tomato or pepper.)

Unlike many other nutrients, phosphorus isn’t absorbed by a plant as it draws in water. Instead, it’s absorbed via diffusion, naturally moving from an area of higher concentration (the soil) to one of lower concentration (inside the root). The soil area from which phosphorous can be absorbed is limited to a very small space around the root itself. If a soil test indicates a need for this essential nutrient, adding an organic phosphorus fertilizer, like bonemeal or rock phosphate, to the planting area a few weeks before seeding will ensure the growing roots have ready access to this nutrient right where they need it.

3. Balance the Soil pH
Like most other vegetable crops, carrots grow best when the soil pH is between 6.2 and 6.8. Use a soil test to determine the pH of your garden’s soil, and then add the recommended amount of lime to raise it if the results show a pH that is too low (acidic) for optimum carrot growth. If the pH comes back too high (alkaline), you’ll need to apply the suggested amount of elemental sulfur to drop the pH to the desired number. Keep in mind, though, that a pH test should be performed every two or three years as the effects of lime or sulfur are eventually negated and the soil pH will return to its native range.

4. Water Just Right
Keep the soil well-watered, but don’t overdo it. Once your carrots are up and growing, they’ll require a good amount of water to reach their full potential. Carrots are not drought-tolerant and will sometimes fork, gnarl or turn pithy if the soil gets too dry. On the other hand, if the soil gets too wet in the later stages of root development, carrots will split open and might show signs of rot. Irrigate at ground level, if possible, as wet foliage promotes fungal diseases, such as leaf blight, cankers, crown rot, powdery mildew and carrot rust. If overhead watering is necessary, water only in the morning to allow enough time for the foliage to dry before nightfall.

5. Keep Them Covered
As the carrots grow, their shoulders may might up out of the ground. If this happens, mound soil or mulch up over the exposed crowns mid-season. Exposure to sunlight can cause the shoulders to turn green and bitter.

6. Control Soil Pests
Carrot root maggots (the larvae of the carrot root fly) and wireworms (the larvae of click beetles) can become problematic in the carrot patch, causing tunnels and pitting throughout the roots. Thankfully, they are easily—and organically—prevented and treated by applying beneficial nematodes to the soil around your carrot crop. Beneficial nematodes are microscopic, worm-like organisms that seek out and attack ground-dwelling pests. Mixed with water and applied via spay or sprinkle on a cloudy or rainy day, Steinernema carpocapsae actively move through the soil, find the pests and eliminate them. Nematodes can be applied to the soil at the start of the gardening season before seeds are even planted (as long as the soil temperature is a minimum of 42 degrees F) or at any time throughout the growing season.

The Cheap Vegetable Gardener

the best fertilizers for carrots

8 years ago carrot, fertilizer, guest post

Most of the gardeners love to grow carrots because of the low-maintenance efforts. However, you need to pay some attention one week after sowing the seeds. Carrots need some specific soil conditions in order to be healthy and tasteful. Therefore, before sowing the seeds and also after the seed germination, you need to check the soil to see if it is proper for the healthy growth of the plant. A light sandy soil with lots of potassium and some amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and other micronutrients works best of carrots. So, a soil test is necessary before you plant your carrots, so that you can add the nutrients that are deficient in the soil. Some of the fertilizers that are most suitable for carrots are:

Potash

Potash is a fertilizer that provides potassium. Carrots need a lot of potassium for their growth. If your soil is deficient in potassium, you need to add potash in it. Potassium helps carrot plants in their photosynthesis, water as well as nutrient transport and also plant cooling. Deficiency of potassium can make the leaves to curl and their margins will have a burnt look. Stems also become abnormally short and stunted. Alkaline soil, however, does not require a lot of potassium, but if you have an acidic soil, add potash to make it alkaline before you sow the carrot seeds.

Kelp

Kelp enriches the soil with micronutrients such as calcium, magnesium and boron. These are required by the plant for chlorophyll production. If your soil has a micronutrient deficiency, you need to add kelp. Calcium deficiency can cause stems to collapse and leaves to wither off. Less magnesium can lead to yellowing of the leaves. Carrots with boron deficiency have leaves that have a rosette pattern and they usually turn orange when they grow old. So, to help your carrot plants to grow better, nourish the soil with kelp. Avoid overuse of this fertilizer, as it causes the carrots to become fibrous.

NPK fertilizers

Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are the three main macronutrients that are required by the carrot plants. Before sowing your seeds, make sure that your soil has a proper percentage of these macronutrients. These nutrients help in photosynthesis, proper root and leaf formation and the overall development of the plant. Their deficiency can lead to pale leaves and stunted plants that can die soon. NPK fertilizers release all the three nutrients and make it suitable for the growth of carrots. This fertilizer can be added to the soil 30 days after the germination of the seeds. For carrot plants, the amount of nitrogen in the fertilizer should be less than potassium and phosphorus. NPK fertilizer with 1-2-2 label can be perfect. Carrot is a root plant and too much of nitrogen can enhance the growth of leaves and make the carrots hairy and cracked. However, take care not to even overuse phosphorus, as it leads to water pollution.

Therefore, before planting carrots, ensure that your soil has all the nutrients required for the proper growth of the plant. If there is a deficiency, add fertilizers. With little care, you can enjoy tasty, healthy and nutritious homegrown carrots, which are far better than the carrots you find in the market. Always avoid over-fertilization, as this might ruin the flavor of the carrots. Remember to water your plants properly after you add fertilizers.

About The Author: Alia is a blogger by profession. She loves writing on luxury and Designer Rugs. Beside this she is very particular about her fitness and exercise daily to stay in shape. She frequently writes articles related to plastic pollution for her blog Ecofriend.

Johnny’s Carrot-Growing Guide

Carrot Bed Checklist
Light, loose, friable and loamy soil vs. heavy clay, compacted or stony soil.
Free of debris, for the most part.
As weed-free as possible — a few initial weedings are beneficial, including flame-weeding just before seeding or just before carrot seeds germinate (see below).
Slightly acidic soil, pH 6.0–6.8 (a range favorable to growing many other vegetables as well).

Carrots like consistency: They grow best with no wide swings in temperature or moisture. They grow straightest and smoothest in deep, loose, fertile sandy loams and peat soils, with good water-retention capacity to keep moisture levels even.

To the extent a grower can influence the environment, these favorable conditions are most effectively achieved through correct bed preparation and spacing, and timely weeding and watering.

#1 • PREPARE YOUR CARROT BEDS IN ADVANCE

Carrots prefer well-drained, deeply-worked soil: preferably to an 18″ depth for the longer varieties, though a shallower depth may suffice for shorter varieties. Heavier soils are okay for half-long or round types. (See Diagram of Carrot Types.)

Deeply-worked soil minimizes the resistance encountered by the growing carrot roots as they elongate. Resistance can lead to misshapen roots. While interesting to look at, forked, stunted, or twisted carrots are more prone to damage during harvest; are less easily handled, transported, and stored post harvest; and generally don’t sell as well as smooth, evenly proportioned carrots.

For information on effective tools for carrot bed preparation, see our Guide to Small-Scale Bed Preparation Tools and Eliot Coleman’s 6-Step Bed Preparation Method.

#2 • SPACE YOUR PLANTINGS ACCORDING TO TYPE

Here are the guidelines we suggest for spacing your carrot rows:

  • Allow for at least 12″ between rows; 18″ is ideal.
  • Spacing depends upon the variety grown and its top height. Smaller-rooted or smaller-top varieties, such as ‘Atlas’ (Parisian Market type), ‘Caracas,’ or ‘Adelaide,’ can be packed in a little more closely than some of the larger Nantes and Imperator types. (See the Carrot Key Growing Information or packet back for more sowing specifics.)
  • Spacing needs are also dictated by the width of the cultivation equipment being used.
  • Consider planting pelleted seeds with a precision seeder to achieve neat, accurately spaced carrot rows and minimize labor and waste. (See below for more about Pelleted Carrot Seed.)

Sowing Pelleted Carrots with the Four-Row Precision Seeder

Why Use Pelleted Seed?
Carrot seeds are small, and their size varies from variety to variety as well as from lot to lot — even if two lots are from the same harvest. Carrot seeds are also elongated in shape, and ridged with spines. These physical characteristics make carrot seeds difficult to singulate when seeding by hand or with seeding equipment.
In addition, carrot plantings usually require thinning when seeded with raw seed, which can be very labor intensive.
Many of our carrot varieties are available in pelleted versions that meet organic certification requirements.
Precision pellets provide for a less labor-intensive, easier way to singulate carrot seed. Pelleting renders the seed more uniform in shape, weight, and size, allowing seeds to be planted with precision at correct distances and depths. Less seed goes to waste, and less labor is required to thin the plantings.
To learn more, see our Tech Sheet About Pelleted Seed. Or browse our Pelleted Carrot Seed.

#3 • GET STRATEGIC ABOUT WEEDING

A range of methods and tools can be used to weed and cultivate your carrot beds; flame-weeding, cultivator tractor attachments, wheel-hoes, and various long- and short-handled weeders and cultivators all have their effective applications.

Carrots do require that a more precise science be applied to the timing of weeding efforts. To minimize labor and maximize results, weeding and cultivating the carrot planting should take place several times — at least 3, and preferably 4 times — during the growing season as follows:

PRE-EMERGENCE CARROT-WEEDING SCHEDULE

  • Before planting your carrots, weeding or tilling in the weeds several times is ideal.
  • We also recommend flame-weeding just before seeding, or just before the carrot seeds germinate.
  • One of the most successful pre-emergence timing strategies, particularly for organic growers, involves placing a sheet of Plexiglass over the first few feet of a seeding, then checking it daily. As soon as you notice the carrots begin to germinate beneath the Plexiglass, it’s time to flame weed, because the rest of the stand will begin emerging in 2–3 days.

POST-EMERGENCE CARROT-WEEDING SCHEDULE

  • If precision pelleted seeds are not used and thinning is thus required, the first post-emergence weeding should be carried out as soon as the carrot cotyledons emerge from the soil. This gives the seedlings the upper hand because their growth will be ahead of any ensuing weeds’.
  • The second post-emergence weeding/cultivation should take place when the seedlings reach roughly 3–4″ in height.
  • The third post-emergence weeding/cultivation should occur when the seedlings are 5–6″ in height.
  • And, finally, a fourth time is recommended when the seedlings reach 7–8″ in height.

For more information, read Small-Scale Weeding & Cultivation Tools for Greater Efficiency.

#4 • WATER / IRRIGATE TO PROVIDE CONSISTENT MOISTURE

The development of a healthy carrot crop requires moisture in sufficient quantities at the correct times throughout the growth cycle: not too dry, not too wet. Here are the specifics.

FROM SOWING TO EMERGENCE

  • In the beginning, from sowing to emergence of the cotyledons, low volumes of water should be supplied frequently. Keep in mind that if the soil dries up and a crust forms, seedlings will have a difficult time emerging, and stands will be compromised. To reduce germination issues if a crust does form, your next best step is to make sure the soil surface stays moist, to help mitigate the effect of the crust.

POST-EMERGENCE

  • As the carrot tops begin to develop more leaves, adequate soil moisture should be maintained, but with less frequency and less volume than during the first growth stages mentioned previously. By this time the small plants are established, and the reduction in frequency and volume induces the roots to grow longer.
  • Towards the end of the lifecycle as roots are increasing in size, watering should be less frequent but with greater volume.
Hot & Dry?
In drier, hotter periods or locales:
Choose shorter, smaller carrot types that mature relatively quickly, such as the Parisian Market variety Atlas.
Among Early Carrot Varieties, longer–rooted varieties with fewer days-to-maturity include YaYa and Napoli.
Heat can cause carrot flavor to be bitter, so plant as early as possible to beat the heat.

Drought stress during the first few weeks of carrot plant development can be very detrimental, as is the case with many crops. Germination rates can be reduced and the plants will not get off to a healthy start. Drought stress during carrot root development can often lead to underdeveloped roots that take longer to mature. For small, rounded, Paris Market-type carrots such as Atlas, insufficient soil moisture will lead to elongated roots by forcing the roots to “reach” for available moisture deeper in the ground.

Too much soil moisture can likewise have a negative impact. Excessive watering can lead to forked roots, especially when this occurs during the first few weeks after seeding. Excessive soil moisture from over-irrigating or heavy rainfall will often cause growth cracks in carrots. Wide fluctuations, too, in moisture can cause cracking. Excessive moisture in the soil and/or on leaves can also create environmental conditions conducive to certain diseases.

Carrot Soil Profile: How To Fix Your Soil To Grow Healthier Carrots

You may have seen them — the crooked, forked roots of carrots that are mutated and malformed. While edible, they lack the appeal of properly grown carrots and look a bit alien. This is the result of improper soil for carrots.

Before you even think about sowing the tiny seeds, you need to know how to fix your soil and avoid stunted and distorted roots. Growing healthy carrots requires loose soil and a heavy addition of organic amendments.

A brief carrot soil profile will give you the knowledge to produce a bumper crop of perfect, straight vegetables, perfect for a fresh snack and a host of other recipe applications.

Best Soil for Carrots

Root crops, like carrots, are best sown directly into a prepared seedbed outside. The temperatures that promote germination are between 60 and 65 F. (16-18 C.). The optimum soil for carrots is loose, free of debris and clods, and either loamy or sandy.

Plant seeds early in spring to avoid summer heat, which will turn the roots hard and bitter. Prepare your seed bed as soon as soil is soft enough to work, by tilling and adding organic amendments.

You also need to check the drainage. Carrots that grow where soil is too moist will put out hairy little roots that destroy the overall vegetable texture.

A moderate soil that is neither too acidic nor alkaline and has a pH of between 5.8 and 6.5 provides the best conditions for growing healthy carrots.

How to Fix Your Soil

Check the pH of your soil to build a good carrot soil profile. Carrots don’t produce well when soil is acidic. If you need to sweeten the soil, do so the fall prior to planting. Garden lime is the usual method of changing the pH to a more alkaline level. Follow the usage amounts on the bag carefully.

Use a tiller or garden fork and loosen soil to a depth of at least 8 inches. Remove any debris, rocks and break up clods so the soil is uniform and soft. Rake out the bed smoothly after all the larger chunks have been removed.

While you are working the soil, incorporate 2 to 4 inches of leaf litter or compost to help loosen the soil and add nutrients. Add 2 to 4 cups of all-purpose fertilizer per 100 feet and work that down into the bottom of the bed.

Growing Healthy Carrots

Once the seedbed has been improved, it is time to plant. Space seeds 2 to 4 inches apart and plant under ¼ to ½ inch of soil. Carrot seeds are tiny, so spacing can be achieved with a seed injector or just thin them after the seeds have germinated.

Keep the surface of the soil lightly moist so it does not crust. Carrot seedlings have difficulty emerging if the soil is crusty.

Side dress the rows with ammonium nitrate at the rate of 1 pound per 100 feet of row once the plants are 4 inches tall.

Your nice, loose soil for carrots is also favorable for many weeds. Pull as many as you can and avoid deep cultivation near your plants, as the roots may become damage.

Harvest carrots 65 to 75 days from planting, or when they reach the desired size.

How to plant:

Propagate by seed

Germination temperature: 50 F to 85 F – Will germinate at temperatures as low a 40 F. Will germinate in about a week at 75 F, with adequate moisture.

Days to emergence: 7 to 21

Seed can be saved 3 years.

Maintenance and care: Plant in spring, 2 to 3 weeks before last frost, ½ inch deep, ½ inch apart, in rows 12 to 24 inches apart. Deeply worked soil with fine, weed-free seedbed will greatly improve chances of successful crop.

Carrots are slow to germinate (1 to 3 weeks), and often germinate unevenly over a period of several weeks. To speed germination, water lightly daily if soil is dry.

Thinning is critical to reduce competition from neighboring plants. Thin to 1- to 4-inch spacings (depending on size of root desired) before plants are 2 inches tall. Cutting rather than pulling reduces disturbance of the remaining plants.

To improve germination in dry weather: Make a small furrow, about 2 inches deep. Plant seed and cover with about ½ inch of soil. Cover furrow with a board to retain soil moisture until seeds germinate.

Tip: Sow radishes in the same row. They germinate quickly, break the soil crust, and mark the row. Thin and/or harvest radishes before they compete with carrots.

Use seed tape or pelleted seed for more even spacings and less thinning. Or mix seed in roughly equal proportions with sand, fine vermiculite, or dried coffee grounds.

Mulch to keep soil cool, conserve moisture and to keep exposed “shoulders” from turning green and bitter. Another option is to hill soil over the shoulders.

Make additional plantings every three weeks through midsummer for continuous supply and fall harvest. Sowing in very early spring is possible, but some varieties will bolt if temperatures are too cold. Plant crops for fall harvest about 10 to 12 weeks before first frost.

Root quality is best when soil temperatures are 60 F to 70 F. The shape of the root is determined within the first few weeks after germination when the new plant extends its taproot deep into the soil. If it encounters obstacles (such as rocks or high water table) or is damaged, shape and quality of the root will suffer.

To prevent diseases, don’t plant carrots in the same spot more than once every 3 years.

Pests: Avoid planting on ground that was in sod the previous season. Use fabric covers to exclude insects.

Carrot rust fly – Harvest all carrots by September 1 in upstate New York, by August 20 farther South, to avoid second brood injury.

Carrot weevil – Clean up garden debris in autumn. Beneficial nematodes are available. Apply as directed on label.

Leafhopper – Leafhoppers spread disease causing carrots to be woody, hairy and bitter. No cultural control is available.

Other pests:
Slugs

Growing carrots

About carrots

Carrot varieties are described as early or maincrop varieties, but also either short-root or long-root varieties. These names give you an idea of when they will crop and the type of soil they’re suitable for. Carrots and parsnips grow best in light, sandy soil so if your soil is heavy clay, stony, chalky or doesn’t drain particularly well, concentrate on the maincrop, short-root types which cope better with these conditions.

Early carrot varieties take around 12 weeks to mature and maincrop carrot varieties are ready in around 16 weeks. Maincrops take up the most space in the garden, but they tend to be the best varieties to grow if you want some for storage.

What to do

Soil preparation

  • Success with root vegetables is very much down to the quality of the soil that they’re grown in, so it’s worth taking the time to prepare your patch. Start digging over your soil in late winter or early spring, removing any stones you find and thoroughly turning the soil until it has a fine, crumbly texture.
  • If your soil is not ideally suitable for carrots or parsnips, you can prepare a large container for sowing instead. When digging over your soil, do not add manure as this makes the soil too rich for the seeds.
  • One week before sowing your seeds, rake in a light dressing of general fertiliser.

How to sow seeds

  • Carrot seeds are small, but it’s wise to plant them as thinly as possible. This reduces the amount of thinning necessary and potential risk from pests.
  • Sow the seeds thinly on a sunny, dry day in shallow drills around 2-3cm (1in) deep, covering the seeds once in place. Early sowings in March and April may need to be protected with fleece or a cloche in some parts of the country. If you have difficulty sowing thinly, try mixing the seeds with a handful of sharp sand and then sowing the seeds and sand together. The sand will aid drainage and will allow thinner sowing.
  • Once the seeds have germinated and are showing their first rough leaves, thin the seedlings to 5cm (2 in) between plants.
  • Parsnips can be grown in a similar way, but as they’re larger they should be thinned to 15cm (6 in)
  • The plants need little other attention during their growth period, although the plants should be kept well watered – too little water results in coarse, woody roots.

Harvesting and storage

  • From June to July onwards, start pulling up your carrots as soon as they’re big enough to eat. It’s best to harvest them in the evening to avoid attracting carrot fly.
  • Late-sown carrots must be lifted by October to be stored over the winter.
  • Store only the best, undamaged roots, cutting off their foliage and lie the roots between layers of sand in a strong box, ensuring that the roots do not touch. Store the box somewhere cool and dry, and check the carrots occasionally, removing any odd rotten roots before they infect their neighbours.

Find out more about growing veg from Dig In.

Carrot fly

One of the main threats to your carrot crop comes from carrot fly. This pest is drawn to the carrots by the smell of crushed foliage, so reduce the risk of an attack by thinning plants in the evening on a still day, removing any thinnings and watering afterwards. Carrot fly are also low-flying insects: erecting a ‘wind-break’ style shield around a crop will also help deter these pests.

Five to try

  • ‘Autumn King 2’ – heavy cropping and well flavoured
  • ‘Flyaway’ – both juicy flavoured and resistant to carrot fly
  • ‘Mignon’ – baby-sized, good for pots
  • ‘Nantes 3 Tiptop’ – sweet flavour and no core
  • ‘Parmex’ – round-rooted, good for growing in containers
  1. Prepare the Soil: Carrots need loose soil to grow well. If you have clay soil, stick with the varieties mentioned above. No matter which type of soil you have, it’s a good idea to loosen the soil to about one foot deep, incorporating compost to help lighten the soil even more. Remove any rocks or hard clods of soil. Carrots grow best at a near-neutral pH, so if you have acidic soil, add lime to lower the acidity level. Don’t add too much nitrogen-based fertilizer; this results in cracked, deformed carrots.
  2. Sow the Seeds: Direct sow your seed, either in the garden or a container, as early as three weeks before your last spring frost date. Sow the tiny seeds on top of the soil, barely covering (or simply leaving them on top of the soil). Keep the seeds moist, and add mulch as soon as they have germinated to maintain soil moisture. If you planted thickly, thin the seedlings to the directions on your seed packet. To keep a continuous harvest going, sow a new crop of carrots every two to three weeks throughout the growing season, sowing a final crop about one month before your first fall frost date. Germination can be somewhat erratic, so be patient and be sure that you’re not letting the soil dry out.
  3. Wait and Monitor: Most carrots take from two to four months to mature. During this time, keep the soil moist but not wet, mulch to retain soil moisture, and feed with fish emulsion when the greens are about three inches tall. That’s all they’ll need, provided you added compost when you prepared the soil. A rich diet only results in deformed carrots. During this time, monitor closely for pests. Whether it’s rabbits munching your carrot crop or carrot fly, the sooner you recognize the problem and deal with it, the better!
  4. Harvest: Once your carrots are ready, harvest them by pulling them from the soil. The best way to do this is to grasp the top of the carrot itself (rather than the tops, which often break off) and give them a good tug. If this doesn’t work (as is sometimes the case in clay soils) use a narrow trowel or dandelion digger to pry the carrots out of the ground. Cut the green tops off immediately–they cause the carrot to dry out and shrivel if left on too long–and store them in the crisper of your refrigerator until you’re ready to use them. If you’re going for long-term storage, carrots store very well in a plastic container of slightly damp soil in your refrigerator or in an unheated garage or porch.

Growing Carrots

If you’ve never bit into a fresh picked, garden-grown carrot, then you have no idea what you are missing. Grocery store carrots are grown with only the goal of easy transport in mind, but if you grow your own you can expose yourself to a tantalizing variety of shapes and flavors. Forget bland and mealy; by growing carrots, they will be bursting with flavor, bright colors, and wholesome nutrition.

Carrots are an easy, rewarding crop to grow, so long as you have the patience to let them mature. You don’t need much space or time to grow a satisfying crop all summer long, so start now to enjoy some carroty goodness as soon as possible.

Start Growing Carrots

Like most root vegetables, carrots don’t do well when transplanted. It won’t help to start them inside, so you should plan on direct sowing your crop as soon as the weather cooperates. You can follow the steps below for success in raising your carrots.

When and Where Should You Grow Carrots?

Carrots need long summers and sunny patches of ground to grow in. If your summers are cold and have a mediocre vegetable-growing climate, you can beat the bad weather and grow carrots in raised beds or climate-controlled hoop houses. The sandier the soil the better they will grow, so if you have heavy clay soil you’ll need to amend it.

Understanding Seed Germination for Carrots

Carrots take between 70 to 80 days to reach full maturity, so patience is needed to prevent you from getting over eager and harvesting too early. It can take carrot seeds as long as ten days to fully sprout (sometimes longer if the seeds are covered in clay) so patience and careful watering are needed during this time. Carrot seeds germinate best when soil temperatures are close to 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Preparing a Carrot Bed

Getting your carrot bed primed for planting is a crucial step for your overall success. To remove all obstacles from your plant’s roots, you can double dig the planting area a foot deep or build up raised beds with high-quality soil. Your goal is to achieve loose, rock-free soil filled with plenty of compost mixed in the top few inches. Potassium promotes the growth of solid, sweet carrots, so adding a little extra is a good idea.

If you have clay soil you will need to work to amend it by adding sand and loam into the top twelve inches and working it together to loosen the clay. Many times shorter, thicker carrot types do better in clay because they are less likely to get deformed as they try to grow. Some good choices are ‘Chantenay Red Core‘, and ‘Parisienne‘.

Planting Your Carrots

To plant your carrots, rake the planting bed free of lumps and stones and broadcast or row plant your seeds. A good goal is to try to plant six seeds per inch. Your seedlings will sprout in 1 to 3 weeks, so be sure to carefully mark the rows so you don’t lose them to the faster-growing weeds. Cover the seeds with a quarter inch of dirt and water your patch carefully so not to blast out the seeds. Keep them continuously moist until they sprout, as a constant supply of water is essential for germination.

Once your seedlings are two inches high, thin them to one inch apart, and again to four inches apart after two weeks. You can start sowing carrots outside two weeks before the last frost date and then continue planting every three weeks until midsummer. If you plant a new patch of carrots as soon as the old one is established, you’ll be able to eat fresh carrots all year long. Immature carrots don’t do well with cold temperatures, so you should plant your last crop two to three months before the expected fall frosts.

Watering and Mulching Requirements

As stated earlier, carrots need lots of water when they are first getting established. You never want to let young plants dry out because it can stunt the carrots long term. How you water is extremely important though because allowing the bed to dry out and then drenching the plants can cause their roots to split. Instead, gradually re-moisten a dried out bed to keep the plants healthy. Throughout their growing cycle, carrots need about an inch of water a week. Once the carrots are better established, the timing and water levels are less important, but the plants will still thrive best when kept continuously moist.

Carrots are susceptible to being overtaken by weeds, so weed often to prevent them from interfering with the beds. You should weed within the first few weeks of planting to help your plants get a head start on the competition. Keeping your carrot patch well mulched will help to retain moisture and prevent sunspots from damaging the partially exposed roots. If you start to see the orange carrot crowns peek out of the soil, it’s best to cover them with a layer of mulch to prevent them from turning green.

Companion Planting and Rotation Considerations

Carrots grow well with a wide variety of species. Beans, onions, lettuce, peppers, peas, tomatoes and radishes are all healthy companion plants. Planting chives next to carrots can even lead to faster growth and a stronger carrot flavor, and rosemary and sage help to keep carrot flies away.

Radishes and carrots are an especially good combination because they can be grown together. Simply plant the seeds together in rows, and the radishes will germinate first and loosen the soil for the carrot seeds. The carrots will still be young when the radishes are ready to be harvested, meaning that you will create extra room for them once you pull them out.

Be careful not to plant carrots next to coriander and dill, as they can slow down growth.

Common Pests and Diseases for Carrots

Unfortunately, plenty of pests find carrots to be as delicious as we humans think they are. The biggest threat to your carrot crop is large, hungry mammals like deer, gophers, woodchucks and rabbits that will get in and devastate your crop. A good garden fence will make a world of difference in keeping these pests away.

Below is a list of some of the other pests and diseases that can affect your carrot crop.

  • Carrot Rust Flies: a big problem in the Northwest, rust fliest look like small green houseflies with big yellow heads and red beady eyes. Their larva enjoys nothing more than burrowing into the roots of carrot plants, turning them dark red and inedible. You can prevent infestations by delaying your planting until late spring or using a floating row cover to keep flies away.
  • Parsleyworms: thick green caterpillars with black stripes and orange horns, parsley worms love to chomp on carrot foliage and stunt growth. However, because they turn into beautiful black swallowtail butterflies, try to move each caterpillar rather than kill them.
  • Leaf Blight: as the most common carrot disease, leaf blight starts on leaf margins and forms white and yellow spots that soon turn brown and dead-looking. The best way to prevent it is to plant resistant carrot varieties.
  • Aster Yellow Disease: shortened and discolored carrot tops with hairy roots can be attributed to this frustrating disease, and because it is spread by plant-feeding insects, your best plan of attack is to keep weeds down and stop creating ideal habitats for pests like leafhoppers.

Harvesting and Storing Carrots

Carrots become sweeter the older they get, but you can harvest them whenever they reach the size and flavor you are looking for. There is little pressure to pick them exactly when they ripen, as carrots hold up well in fields for at least a month after maturing, and a few varieties like Napoli can be overwintered for an early spring harvest.

Using a pitchfork can easily bruise your crop, so a small harvest should be pulled out by hand, with the aid of a trowel to loosen the soil before you pull. You can also water the bed before harvesting to loosen the soil and make the carrots easier to extract.

After harvesting, remove the carrot tops to prevent moisture loss and store them in the refrigerator or root cellar. Varieties will keep for several months when stored properly, and for longer storage you can also can, pickle, dry or freeze them.

Because carrots are a biennial plant, they don’t flower or make seeds until their second year of growth. Because carrots will cross-pollinate, you want to keep your seed carrots a quarter mile away from other varieties. When the flowers have formed seed clusters that ripen and turn brown, you can collect them in a paper bag and allow them to dry for another week before crushing the clusters and gathering each seed. Keep only the largest seeds and store them in a cool, moisture-free place. Carrot seeds will be viable for three years.

Choosing the Best Carrot Seeds for Your Climate

There are a wide variety of shapes and sizes of carrots you can grow, depending on your climate. There are five major categories that all carrots can be divided into:

  • Nantes: an “all-purpose” carrot that is fast and easy to grow in a wide range of climates and soils.
  • Chantenay: develop short, stocky roots that get sweetest in the late fall.
  • Miniature: small carrots that form shallow roots that are sweet and tender. These tend to do well in heavy clay soils.
  • Imperator: long, delicate carrots that need deep, sandy soil to thrive.
  • Danvers: sturdy storage carrots that do well in a root cellar and are great for juicing.

Additional Growing Tips for Organic Carrots

Follow these tips for guaranteed success with your carrot crop this year.

  • Keep the soil moist for at least ten days after sowing to give your carrots enough time to fully germinate. You can reduce surface evaporation during this time by covering your carrot beds with old blankets for the first five days. Once the carrots have germinated, remove the blankets.
  • You can make shallow furrows to plant your carrots that are filled with new potting soil. This will prevent weeds from getting established as quickly.
  • Don’t use too much nitrogen on your plants. Adding fresh manure to young carrots can cause their roots to fork out in unsightly ways. If you add some compost to your beds before planting, carrots don’t need to be top dressed throughout the season.
  • If you are overwintering your carrots, you can harvest the small blossom clusters to use as cut flowers. This thinning helps the plants channel their efforts towards the biggest seed clusters instead.
  • For the sweetest, best-tasting carrots, wait to harvest them until after the first few touches of frost of the season.

Roots of many plants, like carrots are “storage” places, so if you are going to eat them, grow carrots organically. You don’t want icky pesticide poison stored in your food!

Okay, so my friend grew up in Mississippi and says “I’ve never seen uglier carrots than you grew last year!” I said, “you are just used to ‘perfect’ supermarket carrots and not much in a home garden can mimic the perfect (says who?) shape of supermarket produce. I didn’t like how defensive I sounded… but she was right. The carrots in my hand were not pretty. Tasty, but not pretty. They had large splits that ran from top to bottom and the tops were bright green and strongly flavored.

I don’t talk a lot about varieties, I grab seeds from the Farm Supply store, read about them seed catalogues, and work very often with trial and error. That is the sum total of how I write, how my garden works. You can read and read, but nothing in the world prepares a person to grow their own food like hands on growing. Like Nike said, “Just do it!” It is the only way.

Are Carrots Hard to Grow?

However, rather than get off on a discourse about the necessity of organic gardening for food, I will simply say about carrots… The most important consideration in growing carrots is the limberness of your soil (clay or loamy?) They don’t grow well in rocky soil. Some consider carrots “fussy growers” because they grow best in light, stone free soils with plenty of well rotted organic matter in them. If there is not plenty of potassium, they won’t be as sweet; too much nitrogen and they get hairy.

Soil temperatures can play a big role as well. At temperatures below 41°F (5°C)carrots will labor to sprout. If the temperature is too high, carrots can take up to 35 days (and more). It may seem picky, but if you waith until soil temperatures increase to 50°F (10°C) you will find them poking through the soil in 10 days or so. I’ve posted a handy chart I found at Gardener’s Supply here…
Ideal Temperatures for Seed Germination

But before you get too concerned, know that carrots develop normally within a great range of temperatures and are grown throughout the world, well maybe not in the Sahara… Root growth is fastest at a temperature between 60°F and 65°F (15°C-18°C), while ideal temperatures for green growth are somewhat higher. Seeds of carrot mays germinate at low temperatures but the germination period is shorter at higher temperatures and a soil temperature of at least 50°F (10°C) is recommended to grow carrots organically.

Carrots take long days quite well, but they do need lower temperatures to coax flowering. That is really important if you are saving seed for next year’s carrots!

You’ve probably read many things about planting carrots and so long as you are not growing acres of them, they are not that terrible to plant. The seeds are very small, the “head of a pin” size. And if you’ve ever read about planting radish seed with carrot seed, I can attest to the fact that this is helpful practice. Given that even in optimal temperatures, depending on the age of the seed you plant, etc, the fact is, carrots are slow to germinate in comparison to say, a green bean seed that pokes up in just a couple of days. So too, radish seeds come up quickly and “mark the spot” where you will be seeing carrot sprouts eventually. Just be careful when you pull up your radishes that you don’t disrupt your carrot seedlings too badly.

When starting carrot seeds, best practice is to “direct seed”, that is, plant the seeds directly in the garden as opposed to “seed starting” indoors or in the greenhouse in small pots. The reason is that carrots do not transplant well. Yes, I’ve tried it, but the small root hairs are so easily displaced that the time you set yourself back from transplant shock doesn’t buy you any growing time at all. I highly recommend direct seeding for carrots.

I have also read (and tried) mixing carrot seed with sand to “lay them out” better in your bed. I didn’t find this helpful, the seed still bunched together, the sand didn’t help the seed disbursement… it may have helped loosen the soil a tad, but I can find and easier way to do that!

One helpful tip I did find quite useful and always practice when planting carrots involves what to cover your carrot seed with after placing the seeds on the soil. If you use the soil itself, as it dries, it forms a find crust that tiny carrot seedlings can have a bit of trouble pushing past and they are foiled before they see the light of day. If you cover them with a fine bit of sawdust, leaf mold, or peat moss (although peat moss is the least sustainable choice) it makes it easier to water without displacing the small carrot seeds and it keeps an easy covering for the seedlings to grow through. It also helps keep the birds out of them and the wind from blowing them away. And yes, that happens. I’ve tried just leaving them in a small furrow only to find carrots actually growing many feet away!

In order to keep plenty of carrots in a root cellar only plant as many as you can eat for three weeks. Keep a good garden journal of when you plant (and if your garden is large and you stick carrots everywhere like I do) where! And then plant the same amount every three weeks for your entire growing season up until 2-3 weeks until your expected last frost. The fall carrots are the most spectacular (in my opinion) because when the carrots stay in the ground until after a good hard frost, the carrot root turns many of the starches into sugars (deeply complex biology 😉 and they are particularly sweet.

I will tell you this… the “ugly carrots” that my friend so lovingly commented on at the first of this article were NOT that great. But they had been in the ground for over a year. Planted in early spring and left there till spring. The carrots I mentioned above were planted a few weeks before the last frost and harvested (and eaten) in November; small and delicious. Yuummmm!

Feeding and Watering Carrots

One thing that all gardeners speak so highly of, animal manure, is not something to feed carrots. While you may have a clay soil, add humus, leaf mold, compost… but straight manure will cause your carrot roots to do some weird things, forked roots (rocks can also cause this) and twisted. If you have that problem, look to your soil (as with all things organic, LOL!) But in the case of carrots, a rich diet only results in deformed carrots.

  • Wood ashes from your fire provide very necessary potassium for healthy carrots.
  • Water is a critical component of carrot success as well.

Things to Watch Out For

Long cracks in roots. (ugly carrots) This is probably happening because water is not consistent. The carrots are wet then dry then wet then dry. To grow good organic carrots, keep the planting bed evenly moist. Mulch to retain even soil moisture. This will also help prevent the top of your carrots from becoming green. Pull carrots before they become over-mature; carrots are best before they reach their full maturity. Pretty or ugly, carrots can still be eaten even if their roots are cracked. Beauty is only skin deep, and so is ugly.

Carrot Companions: Chives, Rosemary, Sage, Radishes, Lettuce, Peas, Onions, Leeks, Tomatoes

Incompatible Plants with Beets: Dill

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