Carrots are a garden favorite. One of the tastiest ways to enjoy them is to peel them, cut them up into sticks, and serve them raw with dip. They also add a nice touch to stir-fries and soups.
Looking for something a little different? Try boiling or steaming some carrots and serving them as a side dish. Or shred them for carrot cake!
Keep in mind that some carrot varieties were developed for storage, while others were designed for fresh eating. Storage carrots don’t necessarily taste the best when eaten straight out of the garden (although it depends on the variety); they get better with the cold temperatures of a cold frame or root cellar. If you plan to snack on carrots raw, choose a variety made for fresh eating.
One word on peeling homegrown carrots—don’t do it. These aren’t like store-bought carrots with that tough hide on them. There is so much flavor and nutrition in the peels of homegrown carrots, and they really are tender. Clean them up with a vegetable brush under the faucet, but don’t peel them.
- Cool weather, but will grow in summer if cared for properly (see below).
- Full sun.
- Plenty of moisture.
- Light, deep, well-drained soil.
- A pH around 6.5, although anywhere between 5.5 and 6.8 is acceptable.
- Till the soil deeply, removing rocks, clods of dirt, and all other hard objects as you go.
- Plant directly in the garden three to six weeks before the last spring frost. In Kansas, mid-April to early May is the best time.
- Soak the seeds in water overnight. This step is optional, but will ensure the best results.
- Plant two to three inches apart and cover with half an inch of the loosest soil available. Sand or peat moss will work nicely, too.
- Water thoroughly, but be very careful not to wash the seeds away. Try to keep the ground moist at all times.
- Be patient. Carrots may take as long as two weeks to sprout.
- For a continuous harvest, plant a new batch every two to three weeks until the ideal planting time has ended.
- For a fall crop, plant more carrots about 12 weeks before the first frost. In Kansas, mid-July to early August is ideal.
It is very easy to overplant carrots because the seeds are so small. You may need to thin them periodically as they grow. Start by pinching the seedlings off when they are about two inches tall. You want to have them two to three inches apart, as mentioned above. As the carrots grow their roots, check them occasionally to make sure they aren’t crowding each other. Pull the offenders to eat.
For best results, you will have to be very careful watering your carrots. The goal is to keep the ground somewhat damp, but not soggy. In hot weather, you will probably need to use mulch and water the carrots every day. Remember, though, that when it comes to carrots it is better to water in small amounts more frequently than to water heavily every once in a while. Soakings tend to make carrots split open.
Another thing you will have to keep an eye on is the top of the roots. Any part of the carrot root sticking out above the ground will turn green or purple in the sun. While “green shoulders” are safe to eat, they don’t taste the best. Keep the carrot roots covered up with soil or mulch to avoid this problem.
Pests and Diseases
- Carrot rust flies.
- Carrot weevils.
- Mice, voles, etc.
- Leaf blight.
- Root knot nematode.
A carrot can be harvested at any time. The question is mainly how big do you want to let it grow. If it is interfering with other carrots, pull it no matter how big or small it is. Otherwise, just pull a few every now and again when they look the right size to you.
Do not pull carrots up by the tops or the leaves may break off, leaving you with a root buried somewhere in the ground. If the soil is loose enough, dig around the carrot with your finger until you can get a good hold on the upper part of the root. Gently rock the carrot from side to side and work it out of the ground. If your soil is heavy, you may have to loosen it with a fork or trowel, but be very careful not to hit the carrots.
For short-term storage, put the carrots into the refrigerator with their tops on.
For long-term storage, pull them before a severe frost, cut all but an inch of the tops off, and store in a root cellar in sand or sawdust. Another option is to leave the carrots in the ground during the winter under hay bales or really thick mulch. Finally, carrots can also be canned or frozen.
- Store the carrots during the winter in the garden or in a root cellar as described above.
- Replant them in the spring, if necessary, giving them plenty of TLC since they take a long time to reroot.
- Separate from other carrot family members, including Queen Anne’s lace, by half a mile. If this is not possible, place a protective cage over the carrots when they flower.
- Use a soft bristle brush or the palm of your hand to transfer pollen from one set of flowers (umbels) to another periodically.
- Allow the umbels to dry on the plant.
- Crumble the pods.
- Screen the seeds to remove debris.
- Store seeds in a cool, dry place. They should last for up to three years.
Find out more about powdery mildew, leaf blight, and root-knot nematode.