Growing Carrots 101

Are you thinking about growing carrots? I highly recommend it. Carrots are one of the most rewarding vegetables a gardener can grow. It’s so amazing that the smallest of seeds produces such brightly colored roots and gorgeous foliage. Even more important, grow carrots for deliciousness that won’t quit!

Carrots don’t all look like the ones you are used to seeing in the grocery store. They come in a surprising array of shapes and colors. Some are short and stubby and some are cylindrical shaped; some are purple (Purple Dragon) while others are yellow (Jaune du Doubs), white (lunar white), red, and orange.

Carrots have the highest content of vitamin A of any vegetable. That's what causes the bitter taste when the carrot gets too big.
Carrots have the highest amount of vitamin A of any vegetable. That’s what causes the bitter taste when the carrot gets too big.

Legend has it that a farmer created the orange variety of carrots for Prince William of Orange. He was a major player for the Dutch revolt that started the 80 years’ war. The orange variety was brought to America in the 1600s or later.

Growing Carrots for Great Nutrition

One of the best arguments for growing carrots is that they are a nutritional powerhouse. The high vitamin A content is also responsible for the bitter taste when carrots get too big. Have you ever had carrots that tasted like turpentine? You are actually tasting the terpenoid flavor in the vitamin A.

The vitamin A is also responsible for turn your skin orange when you eat too many carrots. This usually only happens with babies or small children when they first start to get their fill of orange vegetables. Some of you parents have probably witnessed a child with an orange nose or palms due to eating high amounts of carrots, sweet potatoes, and the like. That condition is called carotenemia. Don’t worry, it’s temporary!

One of my favorite varieties of carrots to plant and cook are the Purple Dragon.
One of my favorite varieties of carrots to plant and cook are the Purple Dragon.

Growing Carrots – Step by Step

Trust me, if I can grow carrots, so can you! Here are instructions and tips for success.

So, when do you plant carrots?

Your regions weather and zone will dictate when you plant carrots. They are a cool weather plant and can tolerate frost. Here in the South, there are 2 growing seasons. The best season for us is the fall. I’ll sow seeds in September for a late fall/early winter harvest. I also plant them in March though I don’t get as good of results as if I lived a little further North. Once planted, you are looking at 60 to 80 days for maturity.

growing carrots with Stacy Lyn Harris
If I can grow carrots, you can too! – Stacy Lyn

How to Grow Carrots

1. Order your seeds.

You can purchase carrot seeds at various reputable online seed companies. Carrots are one of those vegetables that are only available to grow by seeds. Not to worry; they are easy to plant and harvest. Some standard varieties that seem to do well are chantenay, danvars 126, and scarlet nantes.

I get my seeds from Southern Exposure. There are other great sources too, like Baker Creek and Seed Savers Exchange. Baker Creek (Rare Seeds) has the largest variety of carrots.

2. Prepare your soil.

Sandy-loam soils grow the best carrots. Apply nitrogen and manure slowly to prevent splitting. I recommend applying the nitrogen every couple weeks throughout the season. Mixing compost into your sandy soil will help with the slow release of nitrogen.

3. Plant your seeds.

Carrot seeds are tiny: 1/4 ounce does 100 feet spaced at 1 to 2 inches apart. You’ll get about 1,000 carrots if you plant the whole 1/4 ounce. My raised garden is about 16 square feet, so I should harvest about 100 carrots. When planting large patches of carrots, I like to plant 2 rows 2 inches apart, and then skip about 18 inches for the next two rows and so on.

4. Continue to fertilize.

Continue to fertilize about 4 to 5 weeks after planting. Carrots taste better after a few frosts. Once a frost hits, cover the carrot rows with about an 18-inch layer of shredded leaves or straw to preserve them for harvest.

5. Time for harvest.

If you plant your carrots every few weeks apart, you can harvest throughout the season. If not, pull up a few and see if they are the size you want (at least 60 days). The longer they stay in the ground, the larger they become and increasingly more woody.

6. Store your carrots.

Carrots are super easy to store. You can store carrots in moist sand as long as you are going to use them during the winter. Or you can follow these steps:

Wash the carrots. Twist off the top, leaving a little of the green stem. Allow them to air dry on a paper towel. Place the dried carrots in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. I like the crisper drawer for this.

If stored carrots go limp, you can revive them by placing them in a bath of cool water for an hour or two.

6. Cook and Enjoy…or eat them raw, of course!

If any of you have any tips you would like to share, please feel free to leave them in the comments!!

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