Growing carrots: expert advice
As probably the most popular root vegetables of all, carrots are a must-have for every garden. You can find helpful advice on planting and cultivating carrots here.
Growing carrots (Daucus carota subsp. sativus) in your garden has one advantage in particular: the tasty roots can be repeatedly harvested over a long period of time. While they are a little bit smaller in size in the beginning, they are especially mild and sweet tasting. As time goes by, the aroma intensifies and the harvest will continue to grow.
Planting carrots: location and requirements
Carrots, Daucus carota, like loose and sandy soil, just like all other root and tuber vegetables. If the soil is too clayey or rocky, carrots tend to develop strange shapes or worse, become suppressed in their growth. For heavy soil, it is helpful to loosen it first with green manure (such as oil radish) to support root development. Additionally, ridge planting or raised beds can be a good option for successfully cultivating carrots in difficult locations.
Sunny locations are especially favoured by carrots. This vegetable should not be grown in beds that have been recently fertilised with fresh compost, because of the heightened risk of attracting carrot flies. Carrots are particularly happy with locations where leek has been previously grown. They like having onions, dill, garlic or leek as their neighbours. The reason being, that the smell of the bulbous plants helps to deter the pesky carrot fly.
Tip: If you have experienced trouble with the carrot fly, wait for at least three years, before growing carrots in the infested bed.
Multiplying and sowing carrots
Multiplying carrots is a relatively cumbersome process. Carrots are biennial plants and only yield blossoms and seeds in their second year. In temperate climate zones, carrots cannot survive the winter. For this reason, some carrots have to be harvested in autumn in order to secure reproduction. Carrots have to be harvested intact and have to keep about 2 cm of their greens. Ideally, they are then stored unwashed in the sand in an earth cellar or in an alternative dry location over the course of the winter.
In spring, you should aim to plant around two of the carrots in storage into your bed. The carrot plants will grow to more than a meter in height and will produce beautiful umbels. By the end of September, the seeds will be ripe. In order to prevent them from sowing themselves, you will need to cut off the umbels in time and hang them up to dry. You can remove the seeds by rubbing the umbels softly between your fingers.
Sowing carrots: the right timing
Carrots are not very sensitive to cold. Therefore, they can be sowed in early spring. Sowing them as early as the beginning of March is only recommended for early varieties that can be, depending on the temperatures, harvested from the end of May or the beginning of June onwards. If you want to regularly harvest fresh carrots, you should sow seeds every four weeks from the beginning of March until May. The so-called storage carrots, which are to be stored for the winter, should also not be sown before May. Until fall, they will grow to just about the right size and can then be stored.
Sowing carrots: the right procedure
- Make several grooves, about 3 cm deep, leaving 20 cm of space in between each in between carrots.
- Sow the carrots thinly, preferably leaving about 2 to 4 cm of space in between each seed.
Tip: Carrots need a very long time to sprout. It can take up to four weeks, until the cotyledon starts to show up at the surface. If you sow a radish in the grooves between each carrot, you can use the space optimally. Depending on weather conditions, the radishes will be ripe after about six weeks. The carrots will then have the entire space for themselves.
- You can also sow a row of dill or radishes around the carrots. They will sprout quicker and mark where the carrots have been sown. Dill and carrots even foster each other’s growth!
- Cover the grooves and seeds with soil, press down softly and water the soil.
Another option would be to put down seed tapes. Seed tapes are extremely handy and help sow plants at the right distance automatically. By doing this, thinning out at later stages can be avoided.
Cultivating carrots: suitable varieties
The various kinds of carrots differ from one another, first and foremost, in their point of maturation, their suitability for certain locations, their taste and in their shape. There are carrots with a very conical shape, often called ‘Chantenay’ carrots, but there are also rounded, cylindrical or bluntly shaped ones, as well as the very long varieties. They can also vary in their suitability to be stored. In this article, you can find an overview of carrot varieties.
Cultivating, watering and fertilising carrots
Generally speaking, carrots are vegetables that are relatively low maintenance. They have to watered only if the weather is excessively dry and they don’t have to be fertilised if your garden bed is well-maintained. Additionally, carrot plants don’t have to be thinned out if they have been sown at the right distance or if a seed tape has been used. Once the soil in the garden bed has settled a little and if the carrots have been sown a little too close to the surface, the top of the roots can stick out of the ground. This can be easily improved by putting some extra soil on top of the vegetables.
Watering carrots the right way
Carrots like an even spread of moisture. However, the bigger the roots are, the less moisture they demand. The bigger your carrots get, the more they can tolerate some dryness. In any case, carrots should only be watered with care. Too much water causes the plants to invest their energy in growing leaves instead of roots.
Fertilising carrots the right way
Carrots are moderate feeders. This means that they don’t need a lot of nitrogen and when fertilised heavily, they react with an intense leaf growth. As you want to harvest the roots and not the leaves, you should fertilise cautiously. Composted farmyard manure or compost, combined with green manure, such as oil radish, for root penetration during autumn, is enough nutrition for a rich carrot harvest.
If the garden bed has been cleared out early in the previous year, you could plant a nitrogen-fixating green manure plant, such as clover or lupin. Even though you should not fertilise with farmyard manure in the spring, a small amount of compost can assist in the sowing or early development in a bed that lacks nutrients.
Thinning and weeding carrots
If your carrots have been sown too closely, they will definitely have to be thinned out. If not, you will continue to harvest a lot of mini-carrots, but no big ones, even after a very long wait. The plants simply do not have enough space to form bigger roots. In the beginning, it is hard to recognise how many plants there are and how many will have to be pulled out, especially if the carrots have been sown too closely. For that reason, you should wait to thin out your plants until they have grown to at least 5 cm in height. Thin them out in damp and rainy weather. The rain will prevent the roots’ smell from spreading and attracting carrot flies into your garden.
If you try to plant the carrots you have pulled out at a different location, they will not grow well. If the seedlings are very small, you should save yourself some work and toss them into the compost pile. Should there be some tiny carrots, go ahead and enjoy the sweet treat. Close off the gaps in between the remaining carrots with soil and press it down firmly. After the thinning, each plant should be at least 2 cm apart from the next carrot. For autumn varieties that are supposed to grow very thickly, you should pull out the thinner carrots about a month prior to the harvest time.
Carrots are not particularly strong and competitive and should therefore definitely be freed from weeds early in their development. You should be careful when weeding with a hoe, because the little roots are very delicate. Weeding by hand would be the safer option.
Harvesting carrots: identifying the appropriate harvest time
There is no perfect time to harvest carrots. Harvesting is a matter of taste. The bigger the roots grow, the more intense their flavour becomes. If harvested early, carrots have a sweet and mild taste and they can be easily eaten with their peels. In brief, harvest your carrots according to your taste preferences.
Generally, carrots can be harvested after about three months of growing. This timeframe will of course vary depending on the weather and climate conditions. If sown in a cold March, it will take the carrots at least a few more days or even weeks to sprout than carrots sown in April or May. Carrots that have been sown early will, thus, be rather small and thin even after three months of growing. In such a case, they should stay in the ground a little bit longer.
Here, you will find out how to harvest carrots.
Most of the time, there is no need to store carrots as they can be harvested whenever needed. Once out of the ground, carrots lose moisture quickly and should therefore be stored in the fridge. If you wrap them in newspaper or in an airtight bag in order to avoid mould from forming, they can last for about a week. After a week, they will slowly start to shrivel. One way of storing carrots is to freeze them. You can freeze your carrots peeled and cut and ready to cook. Their consistency, however, will change a little. This way of storing carrots is ideal for stews or soups that will be pureed anyway. Lastly, carrots can also be stored in sand boxes in dark and cold cellars, traditionally referred to as earth cellars.