How to Grow Carrots:
Today there are more varieties of carrots than ever before. The plant breeders are coming up with carrots that are red, purple, orange, yellow and white. Many varieties are being bred for increased healthful beta-carotenes. Generally speaking the more color in the carrot the more vitamins.
The soil needs to be loose and crumbly. If you have sandy soil, add 1 part compost (or well rotted cow/alpaca manure) to 1 part sphagnum peat moss to 3 parts sandy soil. Work this down 12 inches or more into your raised planting bed. For clay soils Larry has worked in 1 part compost (or well rotted cow/alpaca manure) to 2 parts sphagnum peat moss to 2 parts soil. He also adds 1 cup of blood meal, and 1 cup of bone meal for every 10 square feet of garden bed. Again work this down 12 inches or more into your raised bed. Using either of these soil mixes in a raised bed will allow you to grow just about any kind of carrot.
Note: Carrots do not like fresh manure in the soil. Too much nitrogen will cause the carrots to grow hairy little roots all up and down the carrot. When you add manure make sure it is well rotted and it is best to add it to your soil in the fall.
Varieties of Carrots:
Carrots can be long, tampered and slender. These varieties grow best in loose sandy soil. They can also be short and blocky. These can be grown in clay type soils. It is best however to plant any of your carrots in soil that is loose and free from rocks and pebbles.
One of our gardener’s favorites is Mokum, a sweet tender carrot that is early maturing. Larry plants these carrots in the spring and a second crop in late July for a fall harvest. They are crisp and brittle so it is best to dig them out deeply with a garden fork (pitch fork). This one is great eaten raw. Another favorite is Sugarsnax. It holds well in the soil until you are ready to harvest. It is the longest carrot we grow. You need deep rich soil for this one. Mokum is on the left and Sugarsnax is pictured on the right.
When and How to Plant:
Carrots should be planted in the early spring and perhaps again in late July (70 days or less to mature varieties only!). Plant them ¼ to ½ inch in depth and cover with fine crumbly soil. Larry next tops this row with a ½ inch layer of dried grass clippings. Most lawns in early spring have a thatch layer that can easily be raked up to give you all the dried grass you want. It is hard work but it is worth it. Now water gently.
Newly sprouted carrots pictured above
Poor germination of your carrots is almost always due to the gardener letting his/her carrot row dry up. Larry says, “Keep your carrot seeds moist at all times, but never flood your carrots with water either”. During the first few weeks of growth your little carrot seedlings are forming their tapered root. If they encounter rocks in the soil, or if the soil is too compacted or there has been a huge rain storm this could deform your carrots. Many of the gardeners plant their carrots in blocks or wide rows instead of single rows. It is best to try to sow your seeds ½ inch apart and thin to 1 ½ -2 inches after a month of growth. Crowded carrots will not give you more carrots! Since the seeds are so tiny you may wish to buy pelleted seeds or seed tapes. The pelleted seeds are individually coated in clay and about the size of a BB. It is easy to use but a little bit more expensive. Seed tapes are seeds spaced out and glued onto a porous tape. You just dig a shallow trench as long as the tape. Place the tape in the trench, cover and water!
Larry makes his own seed tape by buying blotter paper at the stationary store. Next he cuts the paper into strips 1 inch wide and as long as the blotter paper. Taking the smallest of paint brushes he dabs a drop of wheat paste (flour and water mixed to a syrupy consistency) onto the strip every 1 ½ inch. He next drops one to two carrot seeds onto each drop and lets it dry. You can have seed tapes for a fraction of the cost! This method works for lettuce, spinach, dill, basil and more.
Harvesting Your Carrots:
Many of our gardeners say that carrots taste sweetest in the fall after a light frost has touched them. Larry can’t wait until fall so he plants several varieties. Some mature early and some later. He is rewarded with a continual harvest from mid July on through the fall. Don’t be afraid to leave some of your carrots in the ground through November and possibly December. After the first heavy frost cover your carrots with 3-6 inches of straw. This Thanksgiving Larry just pushed back the straw and harvested enough carrots for his family and relatives.
If you have some methods that have worked for you, please share.