Carrots pack a punch of beta-carotene inside their tasty and beautiful skins. Learn how to grow carrots in your garden for a homegrown taste that those store-bought carrot sticks can't compete with.
Growing carrots from seed is not difficult but requires that you spend a little extra time dealing with your soil. After all, you see the green carrot tops above ground, but it's below where the action really happens.
Grow carrots in well-drained, loose, deep soil. Well-drained soil allows water to flow through it quickly.
Carrot plants need regular moisture—at least 1 inch of water or rain every week—to germinate and develop properly. Regular watering also fends off cracking, which can occur if there's a sudden increase in moisture. It's better to water deeply less frequently; watering often but shallowly inspires the roots to stay toward the surface where they can find moisture, resulting in poor growth.
If you grow carrots in dense, clay soil, you end up with stunted orange bits that may rot if they sit in too much water. Amend soil with compost and other organic material to improve the soil's structure. Avoid using fresh manure as it can cause misshapen roots to develop.
You've probably never found carrot seedlings for sale at a garden center. That's because transplanting carrots easily damages the root structure, resulting in misshapen forms.
Luckily, growing carrots from seed is easy.
There are many carrot varieties, from those that grow long and slender to others that grow round and short. Avoid the longest varieties unless you have very deep and loose soil. Experiment with several types to see which ones taste best. You also may want to grow carrots with varying harvest dates. In general, carrots take 60 to 80 days to reach maturity.
For fun, try purple carrots. Unfortunately, the purple color fades when you boil them, so roast them or eat them fresh. They're just as high in beta-carotene as other carrots and contain the same type of antioxidants that make blueberries so good for you.
Other nontraditional carrot colors include red, white, and yellow.
Carrot seeds are tiny, so it's hard to plant them individually. Use a tweezers to plant each seed about 1/4 inch deep and about 1/2 inch apart in rows 8 inches apart. Or give up and just do the best you can, thinning (pulling out the extras) several times so each carrot has 2 to 3 inches of its own space to grow and mature.
Pull weeds as soon as you see them. If you wait to pull a weed with a large root system, the action may dislodge the carrot.
Harvest carrots when they reach a rich color and when the roots reach 3/4 inch or more in diameter.
Be careful when digging carrots. Water the soil an hour or two before you harvest to soften the ground. Spading forks and shovels can cut and damage the crop, so gently loosen the soil and pull them out by hand.
In cold-climate regions, carrots can be left in the ground beneath a foot-deep layer of straw, hay, leaves, or other organic mulch. In warmer regions, it's best to harvest carrots when they're mature to keep them safe from pests.
Beware when storing carrots in your refrigerator: Apples and pears emit gases that can make carrots taste bitter.