QUESTION: I want to grow baby carrots in my garden. Is this possible?
ANSWER: While you can harvest regular carrots at baby size or grow miniature carrots, you can’t grow baby carrots like you’re used to bringing home with the groceries. The baby carrots you buy at the store have been processed, so you won’t be able to grow carrots in your garden and get the same results. These carrots have been cut into sections about two inches long, peeled, and polished to get their uniform size and smooth look. However, there are certain types of carrots designed to be grown as baby carrots you can cultivate at home.
True Baby and Miniature Carrots
You can harvest any variety of standard carrots early for true baby carrots. Some shoppers like these carrots, which are often sold with the greenery attached, better than baby cut carrots for their sweet flavor. Others say their flavor isn’t as good as baby cut carrots, and they also criticize the texture and small size.
The best option is to grow varieties intended to be harvested earlier than standard carrots. These baby and miniature carrots are bred to have a more mature shape and look than you’d get pulling standard carrots early. These varieties tend to be between three and four inches long when they’re harvested. If you’re going to try growing your own baby carrots, these are the carrots we recommend growing.
Look for “baby” or “miniature” in the name and for product photos of small ball-shaped or short pointy carrots. They’re not harvested early, so despite “baby” in many of the names, these are not true baby carrots.
Baby Cut Carrots
The carrots grown to be used as baby cut carrots are bred to be coreless, long, cylindrical, and sweet. The straighter the shape of these carrots, the more of the carrot the farmers or processors can use.
After the carrots are harvested, machines cut off the green end and pointed end, then slice the carrots into sections two inches long. Industrial peeling machines remove the outside of the carrot and even out the shape of the baby carrots. This process leaves them resembling tiny peeled carrots with perfectly identical shapes.
Before they are packaged, baby cut carrots are washed with a solution containing chlorine. You might read some concerning things about the chlorine wash, but it contains no more chlorine than tap water. The baby carrots are also rinsed off before being sealed into their plastic bags. The chlorine wash is designed to help prevent the spread of diseases like E. coli and salmonella.
To get them ready for store shelves, the baby carrots are taken down to a very cool temperature: 34 degrees. Then a bit of water is added to the packages to help keep the carrots hydrated. Lack of moisture is what causes the white discoloration you sometimes see on baby carrots, and manufacturers add the water to avoid this.
Planting Miniature Carrots
Choose a place for your carrots that gets full sun (between six and eight hours of direct sunlight each day). If you don’t have a location with full sun for them, carrots can tolerate partial sunlight but will not perform as well.
Aerate the soil where you plan to grow miniature carrots before sowing the seeds. You can use an aeration tool, a tiller, or simply dig up the soil and turn it over. The result you are looking for is a loose, airy, fine-textured garden bed that is four to six inches deep. You may need to add some sand to achieve this, depending on the texture of soil you started with.
Plant the miniature carrot seeds half an inch deep in the spring after the last forecasted frost in your region. Your rows should be between nine and 12 inches apart. Your seeds should be planted about a quarter of an inch apart.
Caring for Miniature Carrots
Once the seedlings have their first true leaves and have matured so you can work with them without damaging them, thin them to one carrot every two inches. Cut the plants you thin out instead of pulling them up, which can damage the root systems of the carrots you’re keeping.
To keep two inches between your carrot plants, you will need to thin them out again in about a month. Right after thinning the baby carrots this time is your best window for fertilization. Don’t use fertilizers that contain manure or nitrogen, choosing phosphorus-rich fertilizers instead.
Make sure not to leave debris from your thinned carrots in the garden, as they can put you at risk for attracting carrot flies.
Follow the instructions on the seed packet or online product description for watering and harvest date instructions. Expect them to take between 50 and 70 days to mature. Each variety has a slightly different timeline, so check for the manufacturer’s provided “days to maturity.” If one is not provided, wait until your carrots have developed a visible shoulder buried underneath the soil. Then you can simply pull the carrots up by their green, leafy tops.
Consider These Varieties for Homegrown Baby and Miniature Carrots
- Amsterdam Forcing
- Baby Spike
- Little Finger
- Nantes Mini Core
- New Kuroda
- Paris Market
- Royal Chantenay
- Short ‘n Sweet
Whether you choose to purchase baby cut carrots at the store or grow some baby carrots of your own, we hope this article has helped make the differences between these types of carrots clear.