How to Grow Carrots

Carrots are another pantry staple and a much-celebrated garden vegetable. 

Early spring is the preferred time to grow carrots in most of the United States. They tolerate the cold weather of the spring well. In fact, if the weather is too warm, carrots can take on a bitter taste.  In the southern regions of the United States, carrots can be grown in the fall and over the winter. 

The vegetable we know as the carrot is the plant's large taproot which obviously grows underground. Foliage is seen above ground, and it's a cluster of stems topped with small feathery leaves. Carrot greens are edible.  

Varieties

Many, many varieties of carrots exist and deciding which one to grow can be confusing. If you've read my blog for any amount of time, you can probably guess where I'd recommend you research... your cooperative extension website! They will probably have recommendations for carrots that grow well in your part of the country. 

In addition to large, orange, tapered roots, there are carrots in different colors, like purple, yellow, and white. Different varieties grow in somewhat different shapes as well. There are small spherical shaped carrots called "Parisienne," shorter conical shaped carrots ("Chantenay"), long thin carrots ("Imperator"), thicker columnar shaped carrots ("Nantes") and the long, hefty, and tapered carrots called "Danvers." When researching varieties, you may see carrot varieties described in terms of one of these other types; for example the Napoli variety is called a Nantes type carrot. 

The main factor in choosing a variety that will be successful in your garden to to find a variety that is suited to the type of soil you will be growing it in. If you have clay soil, you need a carrot variety adapted to thick dense soil. Here in eastern Kansas, we have clay soil, and I've had most success with a variety called "Yaya" which is a Nantes type variety. 

After that, select your variety based on your goals - are you looking for a sweet carrot? A carrot that stores well? Something fun and unique?

How to Plant Carrots

Carrots are best planted from seed directly in the garden. They don't transplant well - the roots are sensitive to being transplanted, meaning they tend not to develop well after being transplanted. 

That said, I do see anecdotes on the Internet of people successfully transplanting carrots. I imagine it can be done with very young seedlings and if you plant the entire dirt ball around the plant, and minimize disturbing the seedling itself.  I've not tried it, and starting from seed works perfectly fine for me. 

The soil in which the carrots are grown should be free from rocks and stones as much as possible. Carrots much prefer loose friable soil, as it's easier for the root to develop long and straight. 

Carrots do not require extra fertilizer or a special kind of fertilizer. A root-crop fertilizer applied to the planting bed before planting to ensure the growing carrots will have the nutrients they need. 

Carrots can be grown in containers instead of a garden bed. 

Carrot seeds are tiny and can be tricky to plant. Some seed companies offer pelleted carrot seeds, which are easier to handle and make planting a bit easier. 

How to Grow Carrots

When the seedlings emerge, thin them such that there is only one seedling within about 2 inches of each other. Carrots can grow in close proximity to each other, but two or more carrots growing together will likely result in "interesting" shapes of the roots. They will also compete with each other for nutrients in the soil, resulting in smaller carrots overall. 

Seedlings are sensitive to competition from weeds; weeds can steal nutrients in the soil from your carrot seedlings. Keep your carrot patch or row weed free to the best of your ability.

The root will attempt to grow around any obstacles in its path, and obstacles can stop the root growth. I have seen carrots that grow into a stone or wood chip buried in my garden soil and the root simply stops abruptly at the blockage. Makes for some interesting discoveries!

While this may be amusing, you want to get the best amount of good-tasting vegetable from each plant. Straight and long (according to its variety) is the goal. 

Carrots need consistent water through their growing to keep them growing steadily. If they are watered inconsistently, for example, let to dry out then given too much water, the carrot roots can swell and split underground. Split carrot roots invite disease and pests.

Carrots also need abundant sunlight. The greens above ground have a lot of work to convert the energy from the sun and the nutrients from the soil into the root that we harvest. If grown in partial shade, the carrots don't grow as quickly or as large as they otherwise would. 

How to Harvest Carrots

Harvesting carrots is a lot of fun! It's something like a treasure hunt, because you don't really know what size or shape carrot you will discover when you pull it from the ground! 

Carrots are harvested when you can start to see the rounded top of the root pushing up from the soil. Gardeners call the top of the root the carrot's "shoulders." But, not every carrot will push up enough to uncover the shoulders. You can brush some of the soil aside and poke your finger around the top of the carrot to feel for its size. Don't poke very deep and disturb the growing carrot, though. Just check out the top. 

On average, most carrots mature and are ready for harvest between 70-80 days after planting. Some extra early varieties are ready in as little as 50-55 days. Check the seed packet for specifics about the variety you've planted. 

To harvest, grasp the greens near the surface of the soil and pull.

If your soil is clay or thick, simply pulling may not be enough to get it out of the ground. In this case, consider loosening the carrot by wiggling it as you are gently pulling. I have found that using a "stirring" motion (like stirring the cremer in my coffee) with my hand in a circular pattern works well. 

Sometimes, the soil grips the carrot tightly, and the top (stems and leaves) of the carrot breaks off. Use a small trowel to push down into the soil all the way around the top of the carrot. Don't get too close, because you don't know exactly how the root grew and you don't want to slice into it accidentally. The idea is to loosen the soil around the carrot so you can grasp the top and pull it out.

If the carrot root breaks during harvest, it's still edible, although you will want to use the broken carrots first. 

If you pull a carrot and it's not as large as you thought it was, you cannot replant it to let it grow bigger.

Additional Notes

Carrots are one of the easiest vegetables to grow! Even though carrots have a few pests and diseases, in my experience, they don't get plagued by them. When carrots grow strong and healthy, they can fend off many pests and diseases. 

These pests and diseases can ruin your carrot crop. Keeping your garden soil healthy with organic material and avoiding overly damp, hot, or cold conditions all help to prevent infestation and poor carrot growth. 

Store harvested carrots in the vegetable drawer in a plastic bag in your refrigerator. 

If you have more than you can use, carrots can be frozen and kept in the freezer until they are needed. Carrots can also be canned with a pressure canner. 

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