The prize lives under the ground.
Carrot is a hardy, cool-season biennial that is grown for the thickened root it produces in its first growing season. Although carrots can endure summer heat in many areas, they grow best when planted in early spring. Midsummer plantings that mature quickly in cool fall weather produce tender, sweet "baby" carrots that are much prized. Carrots are eaten both raw and cooked and they can be stored for winter use. They are rich in carotene (the source of vitamin A) and high in fiber and sugar content.
When To Plant
Carrots are usually planted with other frost tolerant vegetables as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. They may be planted earlier in gardens with sandy soil. The soil should be plowed and prepared to a depth of 8 to 9 inches to allow full development of the carrot roots and the seedbed should be worked uniformly to break up clumps and clods that prevent penetration of the roots. Varieties with extremely long roots (Imperator and Tendersweet) usually are recommended only for home gardens with deep, sandy soil. Excess organic debris such as woodchips worked into the soil just before planting also may affect root penetration, causing forked and twisted roots.
Spacing & Depth
- Plant seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep (no more than two or three seeds per inch) in early spring.
- Later sowings may be planted 1/2 to 3/4 inch deep when the soil is dryer and warmer.
- Space rows 12 to 18 inches apart.
- A single radish seed can be inter-planted every 6 to 12 inches to mark the row as carrots can be slow to germinate.
- Germination requires as long as two weeks and the seedlings may not emerge uniformly.
- If heavy rains occur after sowing, packing the soil surface, no seedlings may emerge. Thin the seedlings when they are about one inch tall to no more than three seedlings per inch for finger carrots; one or two seedlings per inch for carrots that will be harvested young; and one seedling per 1 to 2 inches for larger varieties like Danvers and Chantenay that will be allowed to develop to full size and be harvested mature for canning or freezing.
Carrot seed is small, difficult to handle, and often requires thinning to get the spacing correct. Many seed companies have begun to coat smaller seeds in clay or similar material to help when using a mechanical or push seeder. Even if you don’t have a seeder, the larger size of pelleted carrot seed makes sowing much easier. There is often a higher cost associated with pelleted seed.
Caring for Carrots
Carrots germinate best in warm, moist soil. Covering the row with clear polyethylene film warms the soil and conserves moisture. Remove the film immediately when seedlings appear. To assure germination of successive plantings during the late spring and summer months, it may be necessary to supply water by sprinkling. In the heat of summer, some shade may be necessary to keep the tiny seedlings from burning off at the soil line.
Young carrot seedlings are weak and grow slowly. It is essential to keep weeds under control for the first few weeks. Cultivate shallowly with a knife blade cultivator or hoe. Deep cultivation may injure the roots.
Carrots can be harvested or "pulled" when the roots are at least 1/2 inch in diameter. Under usual conditions, carrot tops may not be strong enough to withstand actually being pulled from the ground and digging helps to remove the roots without damage.
- Finger carrots are usually ready to harvest within 50 to 60 days.
- Other varieties should be allowed to grow until they have reached a diameter of at least 3/4 inch (about 60 to 70 days after planting).
- They then may be harvested over a 3 to 4 week period.
- Summer planted carrots may be left in the ground until a killing frost.
Some gardeners place a straw mulch over the row so that carrots can be harvested until the ground freezes solid. In many areas, a heavy mulch allows harvest of carrot roots throughout the winter.
- Use mulch, row cover, or a low tunnel to keep snow off the carrots for easier harvest and ideally dig winter carrots when temperatures are above freezing.
- For harvested carrots to be stored, cut off the tops one inch above the root and place in storage at 32°F with high humidity.
- Carrots may be placed in a refrigerator, buried in lightly moist sand in an underground cellar or stored in the garden in a pit insulated with straw.
- Under proper storage conditions, carrots keep 4 to 6 months.
Selecting and Storing Carrots
Carrots can be harvested at various stages of development. Carrot thinnings can be added to fresh salads and eaten green tops and all. "Thinnings" are immature carrots pulled from overcrowded rows to make room for others to grow. Finger-size carrots may be dwarf carrots or immature average ones. They can be very tender and sweet. Harvest carrots before they are over mature, about 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Hugh overgrown carrots are less tasty, and they may have a tough woody core which may need to be removed.
Store carrots with the green tops trimmed.
- Although the tops are edible, during storage this greenery robs the carrot of moisture and nutritional value.
- Carrots will keep for several weeks in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator in perforated plastic bags.
- If you plan to use the green tops in soups and stews, store them separately, as they will only keep for a few days.
Questions & Answers
Q. What causes my carrots to turn green on the crown (top) of the root?
A. This condition is called "sunburning." It causes an off flavor and dark green pieces in the cooked product. Cut away the green portion and use the rest of the root. When the tops are healthy, sunburning can be avoided by pulling a small amount of loose soil up to the row when the roots are swelling (about 40 to 50 days after planting).
Q. Why are my carrots misshapen, with forked and twisted roots?
A. Forking may result from attacks of root-knot nematodes, from stones, from deep and close cultivation or (more frequently) from planting in a soil that was poorly prepared. Twisting and intertwining result from seeding too thickly and inadequate thinning of seedlings.
Q. What causes my carrots to have fine hairy roots, poor color and a bitter taste?
A. These conditions are caused by a viral disease known as "aster yellows."
Preparing Carrots and Beets for Exhibition
Former Extension specialist Jim Schmidt demonstrates how to properly prepare carrots and beets for exhibition.