QUESTION: How do you grow carrots at home? Are they easy to grow in the home garden? -Renee S.
ANSWER: Carrots are a versatile crop that grows very quickly, maturing about two months after sowing, allowing gardeners to get more than one harvest per season. Like beets, carrots can be grown for their greens or for the bulb. Carrot bulbs form best in cool weather, around 60 degrees F, so early spring and fall crops are favored.
Plant carrot seeds about one half inch deep directly in the garden, either in the early spring or in early autumn, around 70 days before the first frost date in your area. When the plants grow to about three to four inches tall, thin them down to two to four inches apart from each other. Use the thinned out plants as salad greens, as they have excellent nutritional value and are nice and tasty. For a continual harvest, succession plant your carrot seeds every 10-14 days.
Carrots will grow best in full sunlight locations but will survive in partial shade, though they will mature slowly and will produce smaller bulbs if not given at least six to eight hours of full sun per day. Carrots enjoy a slightly acidic soil, with a pH range of 6.0 to 6.5. Like all vegetables, carrots need a well-draining soil to avoid rot issues, and good soil fertility will help them grow quickly and produce full, healthy bulbs.
Provide at least one inch of water per week. A steady supply of water is essential for carrots to promote good root development. Carrots need to grow quickly, and rich soil, regular watering, and lots of sunlight will give them the opportunity to do so. Carrots thrive in cool weather, and will grow best during the cool months of spring and fall. Because they tend to grow so quickly, carrots shouldn’t need any fertilization, as long as the soil they are grown in has plenty of organic matter in it. Instead of fertilizing during the growing season, amend the soil with compost or aged manure prior to planting your seeds.
Carrot greens can be harvested any time once they have reached four inches in height. As long as you don’t harm the top of the bulb when harvesting, the greens will continue to grow and can be harvested again when they reach similar heights. Bulbs can be harvested when they are small and tender, and are best when they are approximately two to three inches in diameter. Older carrots can become pithy or tough, so it is best to harvest the bulbs when they are still relatively young and small.
Carrots which are planted in the fall can be left in the ground and harvested during the winter. A layer of mulch will help to prevent freezing and will help to sweeten their flavor. As they are no longer actively growing during the winter months, you can harvest them anytime you need them. Just don’t let them stay in the ground after spring arrives, as they will no longer be usable once the plant starts to regrow leaves in the spring.
New, tender carrots can be eaten raw when they still have some of the mature carrot tang but are slightly tempered. You can chop them and throw them into salads or wedge them for crudite. Larger carrots can be baked or used in soups or stews, and like most root vegetables, they are fantastic roasted. Older, woodier carrots can still be put to use for mashing or for soups and stews.
If you are planning to store your carrots, remove the leaves first, or they will continue to take energy and nutrients from the bulbs. Carrot greens should be used as soon as possible, but the bulbs can be stored in the fridge, or in a cool, dark place for several months.
Carrots are prone to all of the typical problems associated with growing Brassicas, such as anthracnose, leaf spot, root-knot, clubroot, scab, carrot mosaic virus, rhizoctonia rot, and white rust. The best way to prevent these diseases is to practice good crop rotation, avoiding planting any Brassica in the same spot for more than two years in a row. For issues with clubroot, avoid planting Brassicas in the same area for six years.
Insect pests common to carrot plants include aphids and flea beetles, which damage the greens, and root maggots and wireworms, which can damage the bulbs. Row covers can be used to keep insects off of leaves. Crop rotation will also help with avoiding insect infestations.