WHEN TO PLANT
Carrot seeds may be sown outdoors 3 weeks before the last expected frost; and when the soil temperature stays at least 45F during the day. A severe frost can damage young carrots.
Germination in carrots is slow, often times taking a month when planted early in cooler temperatures.
In sub-tropical regions plant carrots in fall or winter.
Soil temperatures of 75-80F during the day is optimal and can be accomplished in cooler temperatures by using row covers over the bed to hold in heat.
Carrots take 70-80 days to mature.
Plant a quick-maturing variety for early for a summer harvest; plant a second crop 2-3 months before the last expected frost date for your winter harvest.
WHERE TO PLANT
Carrots produce best in full sun but can tolerate light shade.
Plant in soil that is mostly free of rocks for best results.
PREPARING THE SOIL
Carrots are capable of having a very deep root system (up to 3′ feet down).
Loosen the soil in your carrot bed 10-12″ down; remove larger rocks and break up clumpy soil. Once the soil is loosened, you can add 12-18″ of loose soil on top to form a raised bed if desired.
Mixing fully composted material in will help to loosen the soil, but avoid using fresh manure as the high levels of nitrogen will produce leggy, poor tasting carrots.
Test the pH level in your soil; carrots require a pH between 6.0 – 6.5.
SEEDS AND GERMINATION
Carrots are difficult to space evenly and easy to over-plant. The best way to sow carrot seeds is to roll them out between your thumb and index finger.
Sow about 5-6 seeds per inch. Cover your seeds with a minimum of �” soil but not more than �”.
Planting your seeds in a row, even if the rows are tightly spaced, is easier to manage when it comes to thinning and weeding compared to broadcasting.
Once your seeds are planted, water the bed very gently so you do not wash your seeds away – do not let soil dry out.
Once your carrot tops have grown 2″ high, thin plants to 1″ apart; after another two weeks, thin your plants again to 3″-4″ apart. This will allow ample room for your growing carrots and prevent them from becoming deformed.
As your seedlings grow, cover the crowns (where the carrot meets the stem) with an organic mulch such as dry leaves or straw; exposed crowns will turn green and cause the carrot to taste bitter.
We prefer to use straw for mulch – leaves work OK but before they have time to compost down they are likely to blow around the yard. If available, use barley straw; it is more absorbent than wheat straw and retains moisture longer.
Once soil temperatures rise above 70F, carrots become stunted and bland tasting. Covering your carrots with straw or another organic mulch will keep the soil temperature down when temperatures begin to rise.
On a Personal Note:
We used a leaf spray this year that increased both the size and the sweetness of our carrots called Organic Garden Miracle�. It increases the plant sugar in your garden plants, flowers, and even trees. We’re very impressed with this product.
The mulch you apply will help provide even moisture levels and minimize weeds. If your soil is dry, gradually water the bed over several days.
Avoid a sudden heavy watering; this could cause the roots to split.
COMPANION PLANTING / ROTATION
Good companions to carrots are tomatoes, beans, rosemary, cabbage, brussels sprouts, peas, onions, lettuce, radishes, & peppers – all of these all have shorter root systems and do not hinder the formation of the carrot.
Bad companions are celery, dill, and parsnips as their growth is affected by close proximity.
WHEN TO HARVEST
Patience is rewarded with sweeter-tasting and crisper carrots; carrots improve in flavor the longer they have to mature.
You can harvest your carrots as soon as they are big enough to eat or wait until they are fully mature and harvest them all at once for winter storage. If harvesting the entire crop, do so before your first frost in the fall.
Moisten the soil the day before harvesting if needed to soften the soil, making the removal of the carrot easier and less likely to break.
The use of a digging bar (inserted a couple inches away from the root and rocking it back and forth) has worked very well for us when trying to remove deep-rooted carrots; a spading fork is not recommended as it is more likely to bruise or damage the roots, and a shovel may not reach down far enough causing the carrot to break off at the tip.
On a Personal Note:
This year we put a 12-18in. layer of dry barley straw mulch over our half of our carrots to keep them from getting frozen in the ground, which ruins carrots. We’ve had nights this year as low as -15F, and the carrots are staying warm enough that we’ll be harvesting fresh carrots at the end of winter or very early spring!
When storing carrots for the winter, twist off the tops of only the mature, straight, undamaged carrots and line a crate, plastic bucket, or wooden box with newspaper. Layer the carrots (preferably not touching each other) placing newspaper in between layers (sand also works well but is a bit messier to deal with).
Preferably, store in a root cellar or a cool, dark location (such as under the house or in the garage). Ideal storage conditions are 32-40�F and 95% relative humidity.
On a Personal Note:
Our cellar contains one refrigerator and three freezers, so it isn’t overly cooled, so Barry dug a 4ft. wide x 6ft. long by 4.5ft. deep hole on the edge of the garden, lined it with a plywood box, and covered the root crops like carrots and potatoes with dry barley straw – at least 12″ thick. It keeps the carrots nice and cool all winter and they don’t freeze.
COMMON PESTS AND PROBLEMS
When growing carrots , your biggest threats are animals such as deer, rabbits, woodchucks and gophers; protecting your garden with fencing is your best option.
If carrot flies (rust flies) are a problem in your area, waiting to plant until after June 1 and harvest before mid September will avoid the first and second hatching of larvae.
Sage or Black Salsify is also known to repel the carrot fly.
Insects can cross-pollinate carrot blossoms up to 200 feet (to guarantee pure seed 1,000 ft is recommended). For the backyard gardener who is new to seed-saving, grow one variety, and make sure your neighbor isn’t growing carrots nearby.
Queen Ann’s Lace, a close wild relative, will also cross-pollinate freely with your garden carrots. If this common weed grows in your garden, keep it mowed or pulled when your seed carrots are going into bloom.
To harvest the seeds, pick seed heads when the second set of heads has ripened; if you wait until the third or fourth umbel to ripen, the earlier seeds will “shatter” (release and drop to the ground).
To collect the greatest amount of seeds, plants can be bagged with spun polyester cloth (also known as Reemay) to catch all the ripening seeds as they shatter.
Barry Brown is a 3rd generation organic gardeners who is passionate about a sustainable and natural lifestyle. His personal standards for organic living far exceeds USDA certification, which he believes is more about money than food quality and purity.