Carrots are hardy, cool season vegetables that are biannual and, like radishes and beets, are root vegetables. Carrots are a garden favorite, easy to grow, and have great nutritional value such as large amounts of vitamin A (in the form of carotene) vitamin E, calcium, magnesium and fiber. You can find many varieties and will more than likely discover one that suites your taste.
Carrots are a versatile vegetable that can be prepared and enjoyed in many ways including fresh from the garden, cooked, steamed, boiled, baked, in deserts and even juiced! Eating carrots fresh is the best way to get all of their wonderful nutrients. They also freeze and preserve well for enjoyment year round.
Growing Conditions for Carrots
Carrots require full sun (at least 6 hours a day), and loose/sandy, well-drained soil. If you already have sandy soil you are in luck because your carrots will probably grow very well with little amendment. If your soil is compact or has lots of clay in it, you can mix a moderate amount of organic matter such as compost or manure and sand into your garden. Make sure your soil is loose and tiled to at least 7-8 inches deep prior to planting.
Carrots do not like acidic soil (they do best with a pH around 6.5), but before you consider amending your soil you should have it properly tested. A soil test can be performed through your local university extension office.
How to Plant Carrots
As a cool season crop carrots can be planted in early spring right after the last hard frost. A light frost will not damage carrots. They can also be planted in late summer for an early fall crop. Planting in late summer for a fall harvest will give you those wonderful small “baby carrots” that are popular in salads and as a snack. To have a continuous crop you can plant seeds every three weeks after your initial planting and up until around the first week in August.
Just before planting till the soil to at least 8-9 inches being careful to break up any clumps and lumps as these can impede the carrot’s development.
Carrots are planted from seed. Make sure the seed packet is fresh and not from last season and has been stored properly. Place seeds about 1/2 inch in the ground, 2-3 seeds per inch. Rows should be about 12-18 inches apart. The seeds will take about two weeks to germinate. Once the seedlings are about an inch or two high thin them to prevent overcrowding. Carrots should be spaced about 2-3 inches apart as they grow.
Care for Carrot Plants
Carrots perform best in consistently moist soil; an inch a week is an adequate amount. If they do not receive enough water through rainfall, you may supplement by hand watering. Frequent, light watering is not as effective as less frequent but deep watering that will reach root level. Inconsistent watering can cause cracks and fissures to form as carrots develop.
Weeding around Carrots
Weeding needs to be done on a regular basis. Weeds will compete with nutrients, moisture and potentially damage the fragile root system. Be careful not to pull the carrot up with the weed; shallow cultivation will help prevent this. Mulching when the plants are more mature will help keep weeds under control.
Carrot Problems, Pests and Diseases
Carrots are forked: possible causes include rocks and stones in the soil, improper cultivation, poor soil preparation (large clumps left in soil) or root-knot nematodes.
Twisting and intertwining: possible causes include over seeding and improper thinning of seedlings as they grow.
Fine hairy roots, a bitter taste and poor color: a viral disease called aster yellows causes this.
Carrot root flies
For a more detailed list of common problems, pests and diseases visit this resource:carrot gardening tips.
Carrots are ready to be harvested when their roots are one half to three fourths inches in diameter or greater. Depending on the variety, maturity usually takes between 60-80 days. Carrots can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks or an area where it is 32 degrees with high humidity. Carrots will keep for about six months with proper storage. To prepare for storage, cut off the tops of the carrot about an inch above the root. Of course, carrots can also be frozen or canned for later consumption.
Varieties of Carrots
The University of Illinois Extension [1,1] recommends the following varieties for your home garden:
Small, Round Carrot Types
Orbit (58 days to harvest, good color, few off-types, best harvested at the size of a 50 cent piece)
Thumbelina (60 days; 1992 AAS winner; round roots; good for planting in containers and in heavy, shallow or rocky soil)
Recommended Baby Carrot Types
Baby Spike (52 days; 3 to 4 inch roots, 1/2 inch thick; excellent internal color; tender; holds small size well)
Little Finger (65 days; tiny tender roots; 5 inch roots, 1/2 inch thick; golden orange, sweet and crisp)
Minicor (55 days; slender fingerling carrots; colors early; uniform, cylindrical, blunt tip; good flavor)
Short ‘n Sweet (68 days; rich, sweet flavor; 4 inch roots, broad at shoulder, tapered to a point; good for heavy or poor soil)
Recommended Chantenay Carrot Types
Red-Cored Chantenay (70 days; heavy yield; good flavor; short, thick roots, broad at the shoulder, tapered to blunt tip)
Royal Chantenay (70 days; broad-shouldered, tapered roots; bright orange; good for heavy or shallow soils)
Recommended Danvers Carrot Types
Danvers Half-Long (75 days; uniform, 7 to 8 inch roots tapered to very blunt end; sweet, tender)
Danvers 126 (75 days; heavier yield than Danvers; smooth roots; tops withstand heat).
Recommended Nantes Carrot Types
Bolero (hybrid-70 days; 7 to 8 inch roots, uniformly thick, tapered slightly to blunt tip; superior resistance to foliage disease)
Ingot (hybrid-70 days; 8 inch roots, 1-1/2 inches thick; indistinct core; deep orange color; strong tops; extremely sweet)
Nantes Coreless (68 days; orange-red; small core, medium top)
Scarlet Nantes (70 days; bright orange, slightly tapered, 6 inch roots; crisp, tender and flavorful; standard for high quality carrots)
Sweetness (hybrid-63 days; sweet and crunchy; cylindrical, 6 inch roots, 1 inch thick)
Touchon (70 days; interior, exterior bright orange; 7 inch roots, nearly coreless)
Recommended Imperator Carrot Types
Avenger (hybrid-70 days; extra fancy; slightly blunt, tapered roots, 9 to 10 inches long)
Gold Pak (76 days; 8 inch roots, 1-1/2 inches thick; sweet, tender, as coreless as any; good for juice)
Imperator 58 (68 days; smooth, fine-grained, long, tapered roots; standard long, thin type)
Legend (hybrid-65 days; high yield; smooth, uniform, 9 to 11 inch roots, 1-1/2 inches at shoulder; tolerant to cracking)
Orlando Gold (hybrid-78 days; uniform, long, tapered shape; excellent flavor, color; 30 percent more carotene)
Tendersweet (75 days; long, tapered roots; rich orange color; sweet, coreless)
Recommended Novelty Carrot Types
Belgium White (75 days; mild flavor; long, tapered, white roots; productive, vigorous)
Want to learn more about growing carrots?
For further information on growing carrots visit these helpful resources:
Growing Carrots and Other Root Vegetables in the Garden
Growing Carrots in the Home Garden
1] University of Illinois Extension: Watch Your Garden Grow.