Growing in the spring, carrots are a cool-season crop, and there are many more varieties to grow, from Belgium Whites to Purple Dragon to Parisian heirlooms. Carrots are hard to grow in heavy, compacted soil, but with some effort, you can indeed get them going.
Planting and Growing Information:
Carrots prefer sunny locations (6 to 10 hours of sun). The soil itself should be free-draining and have a neutral pH (one of the few crops that actively benefits from sandier soils). Make sure your soil isn’t too rich or the carrots can’t reach down. If your garden consists of hard clay soil, grow your carrots in containers or raised beds at least 8 inches to 12 inches high. Carrot seeds can be sown about 2 to 3 weeks before the last spring frost date. You ideally want the soil to have both died out and warmed up a little after the winter. Seeds germinate after the soil temperature is at least 40°F, but they germinate best at 55°-65°F, not exceeding 75°F. The benefits of high summer temperatures are that they reduce growth, decrease quality, and will cause the carrots to develop a bitter or off flavor.
Prepare the gardening site by tilling to a depth of 10 inches. It’s important that you make sure there are no rocks, stones, or even soil clumps. Amend soil with compost and 6 inches of sandy topsoil if your soil isn’t loose and airy. You should sow seeds directly in the garden (or wherever you plan to grow them) rather than transplanting as carrots don’t like to have their roots disturbed. Sow ¼ inch deep, 2 to 3 inches apart in rows 1 foot apart. Keep the soil moist with frequent shallow waterings. For small carrots to germinate, the soil shouldn’t form a hard crust on top, so cover them with a layer of fine sand, vermiculite, or compost to prevent a crust from forming. If you put your finger into the ground, it should be moist, but not wet, to the middle knuckle. Given carrots are sometimes slow to germinate, they require 14-21 days to emerge. To achieve a continued harvest, plant carrots every 4 weeks through mid-summer.
Carefully mulch carrots so you can retain moisture, speed germination, and block the sun from hitting the roots directly. Once seedlings are an inch tall with 3 to 4 true leaves, thin so that they stand 3 to 4 inches apart. To prevent damage to the fragile roots of the remaining plants, snip tops with scissors instead of pulling them out. Ensure carrots receive 1 inch of water per week either by rain or watering, but make sure to not overwater carrots. Given carrots don’t like struggling against weeks, weed them diligently, but make sure to not disturb the young carrots’ roots while doing so.
Fertilize 5 to 6 weeks after sowing. A low-nitrogen fertilizer will work best as excess nitrogen in the soil promotes top, or foliage, growth—not roots.
To know if your carrots are ready to be harvested, check the approximate width of the roots by looking at the neck of the root, the first roots being ready as soon as 2 months from sowing. Generally, the smaller the carrot, the better the taste. They should be as wide as your thumb or at least ½ of an inch in diameter. Younger and shallower roots should come away easily enough by firmly gripping them at the base of the foliage. Oftentimes, it helps to push down on the root first, and then give it a twist as you gently pull upwards. Harvest in stages, or as roots each full size. This way, you’ll stagger your harvest over many weeks. When growing carrots in the spring and early summer, harvest before daily temperatures get too hot due to the heat causing carrot roots to grow fibrous. For a fall harvest, sow seeds in mid to late summer, beginning at 10 weeks before your first fall frost. As carrots are biennial, if you fail to harvest and leave the carrots in the ground, the tops will flower and produce seeds the following year.