Growing carrots

Growing carrots

Let’s talk about my favorite crop to grow, carrots! Carrots are one of the most versatile’s crops and can be used in so many different ways! I joke with friends saying that I should change my name to “carrot guide” instead of “raised bed guide” as I have great success with growing them while many people struggle. When it comes to caring, it is not a complicated crop to grow, but it does require some tricks in order to grow big ones!

Characteristics of carrots

Carrots belong to the Apiaceae family, the same as cilantro, parsley, and parsnip. It is believed that the wild carrot was original from Central Asia. The carrot we know is much different from its original form. Through selective breeding, the taste, size, texture, and colors were improved. All the parts of the carrots are edible, but most people tend only to use the roots. The foliage can be stir-fried and added to salads, tasting very similar to parsley.

When to plant

Timing is everything when it comes to vegetable gardening. A lot of people fail when trying to grow the wrong type of plant at the wrong time of the year. Carrots are not heat-loving plants, so the appropriate weather is when soil temperatures are around 55-75F. This means that for a big part of the US, the ideal timing is around fall and spring (winter for some regions of the US such as Florida). If temperatures are above 85F, plants will struggle and/or not germinate. Normally established carrots that grow when temperatures reach above 85 F tend to be bitter.

Site selection

Most vegetables need the 6-8 hours of direct sunlight window to grow, leafy greens are the few ones that can get away with less. If not enough sunlight reaches the site, the carrots will tend to grow bigger leaves to increase photosynthesis and smaller roots (which is the part of the carrot that we eat), and we don’t want that.

Spacing and thinning

A big mistake many gardeners make is being afraid of removing or disposing of seedlings. A very important part of gardening is removing the old and giving space for the new. Plants and people need space to grow and thrive. If not enough space is given, you will harvest small stunted plants. A good rule of thumb is planting 16 carrots per square foot. This means that you should have at least 3 inches between carrots.

To ensure that you are giving your plants enough space, you can either space them properly as you plant them or thin them out using scissors to cut the excess seedlings. Or you can use something like a plant ruler to space the seeds properly. I personally hate thinning as it’s tedious, so I tend to try to space the plants correctly. Using nonpelleted seeds makes the process a little harder.

Carrot varieties

There are many different varieties and colors of carrots.

Yellow carrots

  • Uzbek golden carrot
  • Jaune obtuse du doubs carrot

Purple carrots

  • Black nebula
  • Pusa asita

Red carrots

  • Cosmic purple
  • Kyoto red

Orange carrots

  • Manpukuji – giant carrots originated in Japan
  • New Kuroda – heat resistant variety

White carrots

  • Kuttiger carrot
  • Lunar white carrot

Pellet vs nonpelleted carrot seeds

So what is the difference between pelleted and non pelleted seeds? Pelleted seeds were developed with the goal of facilitating planting. Small seeds such as carrots can be difficult to plant even for the most skilled hands. The process of making pellet coats and protecting seeds makes it easier for machinery and people to plant. Another benefit from pelleted seeds is that it protects the seed from the environment increasing germination rate and nutrients can be added to it.

Growing carrots in pots

The part of the carrots that are mostly used by us is the tap root, so it is important to have loose soil. Any “obstacle” such as rocks and other plants’ roots will cause forking or irregular shape. For this reason, I prefer to grow carrots in separate containers compared to in-ground.

Growing carrots in pots are more than possible, it can also be easier. When picking what kind of containers/pots to grow, I recommend picking nothing shorter than 8 inches but ideally taller than that. It is also important to choose varieties with smaller tap roots as some varieties, such as the Japanese Manpukuji, can reach up to 2 feet long. Some of the varieties I recommend for pot growing are:

  • Cosmic purple (one of my favorite varieties. Easy to grow, cool looking, and amazing flavor.)
  • Little Finger
  • Any dwarf carrot variety

Common Pests and Diseases

When it comes to pests and disease, not a whole lot seemed to have attacked our carrots. I am not saying it didn’t battle different pathogens and pests but compared to other crops, the damage was minimal. Some of the issues we encountered were:

  • Root-knot nematode
  • Spider mites
  • Occasional caterpillar damage*

Other pests/pathogens that may attack carrots:

  • Leafhoppers
  • Aster yellows
  • Carrot rust flies
  • Flea beetles
  • Carrot weevils

Are carrots annual or perennial?

Carrots are biennial vegetables. But what does that mean? It takes approximately two years for the plant to complete its full life cycle (germination-reproduction). However, when left in the ground for its full reproductive cycle, the roots become bitter and hard as a rock. Needless to say that this doesn’t sound like the carrots we buy at supermarkets. The reason behind that is that we grow carrots as annual plants, anywhere from 80-120 days after sowed we harvest.

Fertilizing carrots

The most important part when it comes to growing your own vegetable is soil health. Poor quality soil will lead to unhealthy stunted plants. At the end of every growing season, the soil will be depleted of nutrients, so replenishing the nutrients before the next growing season is essential to promote healthy plant growth.

I like to make a light fertilizer application 7-14 days before I sow and transplants my seedlings. When looking for fertilizer, I recommend using organic granular options as it is more beneficial for soil health and tends to break down slower. It is important to choose a fertilizer with low nitrogen as this nutrient encourages foliage growth, and for root crops, we want to encourage root growth.

If you have read any other blog post I wrote, you are probably tired of listening to me saying, “when it comes to fertilizing, less is more”. I like to repeat this statement as I see new gardeners often killing plants by overfertilizing, thinking it will give the plant an extra boost. The truth is that even organic fertilizers can kill your plants, and excess fertilizer is the root cause of many environmental issues. To determine the rate, the best practice is to read the label thoroughly and calculate how much to apply.

Watering

Although carrots don’t require an excessive amount of water, it is important to keep somewhat constant soil moisture. After sowing until germination occurs, I recommend surface irrigation daily as carrots are lightly sowed and suffer more from environmental changes than seeds that are sowed deeper.

Inconsistent watering when plants are growing can cause the “splitting” of the roots. I recommend setting an alarm to remind of irrigation, watching the weather, and investing in an automated irrigation drip system if possible.

Carrot soil

Soil health leads to plant health; part of the secret of growing big carrots is having rich soil. Carrots prefer rich loose soil with nitrogen at the lower end of the spectrum.

When to harvest carrots

Different varieties have different harvesting time. Generally speaking, 85-120 days seems to be the norm for carrots. I recommend always reading the label and knowing your sowing date. Another tip to determine if the carrots reached their full size (remember, there is no damage on harvesting carrots earlier, the only downside is that the roots will be smaller) is seeing if the top of the roots is starting to show above the soil line like in the picture under.

Final thoughts

Next time you try growing carrots don’t forget that rich, loose soil, spacing, and sunlight are big contributors to how big your carrots will be. Some of the steps may take a little time and effort, but your hard work will pay off. If you would like to learn more about raised bed gardening or get some inspiration, follow me on Instagram @raisedbedguide

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