Orange carrots are the traditional standard, but you can try planting white, yellow, crimson, or even purple carrots, too. More important than color, though, is choosing the right root size and shape to suit your soil. Carrot size and shape varies by type, and there are five major categories. Ball-type, Chantenay, and Danvers carrots have blocky shapes that can handle heavy or shallow soil, while slender Nantes and Imperator carrots need deep, loose soil. All types are available in early and late cultivars; many are disease-and crack-resistant. Some catalogs don’t describe how to plant carrots by type, but will point out which cultivars do better in heavy or poor soil.
(Whether you’re starting your first garden or switching to organic, Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening has all the answers and advice you need—get your copy today!)
- What is square foot gardening?
- Square foot gardening tips:
- More info on square foot gardening:
- Indoor Carrot Garden: Tips For Growing Carrots Indoors
- Can Carrots Grow Indoors?
- How to Grow Carrot Plants in Pots
- Planting and Care
- Fertilizing and Watering Carrots
- How Much Water Do Seed Carrots Need?
How To Plant
To produce the best crop possible, double-dig your planting area or build up a raised bed. Loose, rock-free soil is the goal. If you have heavy soil, add plenty of mature compost.
Start sowing this cool-weather crop 3 weeks before the last expected frost; plant again every 2 to 3 weeks after that. Most cultivars take 70 to 80 days to mature, so sow your last planting 2 to 3 months before the first expected fall frost. In Zone 8 and warmer, plant carrots in fall or winter.
Try this trick for planting tiny seeds evenly:
Rake the soil free of lumps and stones. Broadcast the tiny seeds, or for easier weeding, plant in rows. Put a pinch of about six seeds to the inch. They will take 1 to 3 weeks to sprout (they germinate more slowly in cold soil than in warm), so you can always mix in a few quick-growing radish seeds to mark the rows. Cover with ¼ to ½ inch of screened compost, potting mix, or sand—a little more in warm, dry areas—to make it easier for the delicate seedlings to emerge. Water gently to avoid washing seeds away; keep the soil continuously moist for best germination.
The Garden Smallholder/Getty
Thin to 1 inch apart when the tops are 2 inches high, and be thorough, because crowded carrots will produce crooked roots. Thin again 2 weeks later to 3 to 4 inches apart.
Related: 26 Plants You Should Always Grow Side-By-Side
As the seedlings develop, gradually apply mulch to maintain an even moisture level and reduce weed problems. It’s best never to let young carrot plants dry out. However, if the soil dries out completely between waterings, gradually remoisten the bed over a period of days; a sudden drenching may cause the roots to split. Carrots’ feeder roots are easily damaged, so hand pull any weeds that push through the mulch, or cut them off just below the soil surface. Cover carrot crowns, which push up through the soil as they mature, with mulch or soil to prevent them from becoming green and bitter.
The biggest threats to carrots are four-footed critters such as deer, gophers, woodchucks, and rabbits. (Here’s how to keep animal pests from destroying your garden.) Otherwise, carrots are fairly problem-free, though there are a few insect pests and plant disease you might run into.
Keep an eye out—particularly in the Northwest—for carrot rust flies, which look like small green houseflies with yellow heads and red eyes. Their eggs hatch into whitish larvae that burrow into roots. Infested roots turn dark red and the leaves black. Infestations usually occur in the early spring, so one solution is to delay planting until early summer, when damage is less likely. Or cover plants with a floating row cover to keep flies away.
Parsleyworms are green caterpillars with black stripes, white or yellow dots, and little orange horns. They feed on carrot foliage, but they are the larval stage of black swallowtail butterflies, so if you spot them on your carrots, try not to kill them. Instead, transfer them to carrot-family weeds such as Queen Anne’s lace, and watch for chrysalises to form, and later, beautiful butterflies!
Related: 14 Natural Ways To Control Garden Pests
The larvae of carrot weevils, found from the East Coast to Colorado, tunnel into carrot roots, especially in spring crops. Discourage grubs by rotating crops.
Nematodes, microscopic wormlike animals, make little knots along roots that result in stunted carrots. Rotate crops and apply plenty of compost, which is rich in predatory microorganisms.
Leaf blight is the most widespread carrot disease. It starts on leaf margins, with white or yellow spots that turn brown and watery. If leaf blight is a problem in your area, plant resistant cultivars. (You can keep all your garden plants healthy by understanding plant diseases and disorders.)
Hot, humid weather causes a bacterial disease called vegetable soft rot. Prevent it by rotating crops and keeping soil loose. The disease spreads in storage, so don’t store bruised carrots.
Carrot yellows disease causes pale leaves and formation of tufts of hairy roots on the developing carrots. The disease is spread by leafhoppers, so the best way to prevent the problem is by covering new plantings with row covers to block leafhoppers.
Related: 7 DIY Recipes For Deterring Unwanted Garden Pests And Diseases
How To Harvest
Carrots become tastier as they grow. You can start harvesting as soon as the carrots are big enough to eat, or leave them all to mature for a single harvest. Dig your winter storage crop before the first frost on a day when the soil is moist but the air is dry. Since spading forks tend to bruise roots, hand-pull them, loosening the soil with a trowel before you pull. Watering the bed before harvesting softens the soil and makes pulling easier.
Related: 4 Tips For Planning Your Fall Garden
To save harvested carrots for winter use, prepare them by twisting off the tops and removing excess soil, but don’t wash them. Layer undamaged roots (so they’re not touching) with damp sand or peat in boxes topped with straw. Or store your fall carrot crop right in the garden by mulching the bed with several inches of dry leaves or straw.
Okay, people: it’s time to plant your vegetable garden. The weather is beautiful, and even if it isn’t beautiful where you live, it will be sometime in the next week or so. I checked.
Square Foot Gardening is my method of choice, except when I go overboard and just plant stuff everywhere. I expect you to have more self-control. SFG (as square foot gardeners call it) is easy, fast, and everything’s on a grid, which is nice for all you engineers and other geek types.
Best of all, you get a lot of produce out of very little space. That means less building, less dirt to buy or shovel, less weeding and watering, and more eating delicious fresh vegetables. The typical SFG raised bed is just 4’x4′, and one or two beds is plenty for most folks.
What is square foot gardening?
In traditional row gardening, you plant long rows of one kind of seed — usually as many seeds as will fit, regardless of whether you actually want forty lettuces. Then you leave a foot or two of empty space between rows — that’s where you’ll walk as you thin all those seedlings down to a sensible number, and water and weed and water and weed and finally harvest. This uses up a lot of space, water, and energy.
In square foot gardening, you plant things as close together as you can. Instead of long rows, you divide each garden bed into 1 foot by 1 foot squares, with one kind of crop in each square, spaced only as far apart as they need to be.
Look at the back of a packet of seeds. Ignore where it says “seed spacing” and “row spacing” and look for something that says “space after thinning,” or something to that effect. That number tells you how much space that plant actually needs to grow. Carrots need about 3 inches between plants. Lettuce needs 6 inches. Tomatoes need 1 foot.
So for your lettuce plants (space after thinning: 6″) you take one of your 1’x1′ garden squares, divide it into four quarters, and plant one lettuce in the middle of each quarter.
Carrots need 3 inches each, which means you can put 16 carrots in one square foot. (12 inches divided by three inches per carrot = four carrots per linear foot, or 16 carrots per square foot.) So divide your 1′ square of soil into quarters, then divide each quarter into quarters: now you’ve got 16 little squares. Plant one or two seeds (the extra is in case one doesn’t sprout) in the middle of each of the little squares.
Beets need 4 inches each, or 9 per square foot. Divide your square into thirds each way, and plant your nine beet seeds. Getting the hang of it?
Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants each get a whole square to themselves. Cucumbers and kale are medium-sized, and you can fit two plants in each square. (The official guide is 1 kale plant per square, but I know how much kale you eat, and your plants won’t have a chance to get big and overgrown, since you’ll keep them in check by picking a big handful of tender young leaves every few days.)
Zucchini and melons like to sprawl out and take a lot of space, so they get two square feet per plant — just pop your plant right on the line between two squares, and encourage it to grow so it climbs out over the side of the bed and sprawls across your walkway or up a trellis instead of all over the bed.
What’s that? You really like carrots and want more than 16? That’s fine: plant two squares full of carrots. Better yet, plant one square now, and another square in a month — that way you’ll have a continuous supply of tender young carrots.
Once you finish harvesting a square, don’t let it sit empty — mix in a trowel full of compost to refresh the nutrients, and plant something else. Grow 9 spinach plants in spring, and when they bolt, take them out and plant a pepper. After you harvest that, plant 8 peas or 4 swiss chard plants.
You can plant from seeds or buy transplants from the nursery — whichever you prefer. You probably won’t use a whole packet of seeds, but you can keep them tightly sealed somewhere cool and dry, and they’ll last a few years. And of course, you can always get free seeds from your local seed lending library.
Square foot gardening tips:
- Many people make permanent guide lines with string or trellis materials. You don’t have to, but it does keep things tidy.
- Plant the tallest things towards the back of your bed (the north end in the northern hemisphere, south end in the southern hemisphere) so they don’t shade the shorter things.
- Plant things that you pick often — like salad greens for dinner — around the edges, where they’re easiest to reach.
- Don’t make your beds more than 4′ deep, or you’ll have a hard time reaching the middle squares.
- If you’re putting your bed against a wall or fence, don’t make it more than 3 feet deep. I like 3′ by 5′ beds, with a trellis along the back.
More info on square foot gardening:
Mel Bartholomew’s classic book Square Foot Gardening is still my go-to reference, except that I lent out my copy and also my loaner copy. Mine are older editions, so I can’t say whether there’s anything especially valuable in the newer ones. One thing: I’m not crazy about his “Mel’s Mix” recipe for planting mix — it’s equal parts peat moss, vermiculite, and compost, and there are serious environmental concerns about peat moss and vermiculite.
Disclosure: that’s an affiliate link, meaning I earn a few nickels if you buy books through it. But Square Foot Gardening has been around for ever, so you can probably find a cheap used paperback of an earlier edition (at your local independent used bookstore) without looking too hard. Any time I see one that’s only a few bucks I buy it, because I keep lending mine out or giving them away. It’s no way to earn affiliate commissions, but that’s how I roll. Oh, and your local library should also have these books, but they might all be checked out — it is springtime, after all. Also, the librarians might be angry if you bring theirs back with muddy little fingerprints all over it.
But if you want a shiny new copy of your very own, or any other books that I’ve mentioned, and if you’re going to shop online anyway, you may as well do so by clicking one of these links.
Indoor Carrot Garden: Tips For Growing Carrots Indoors
Can carrots grow indoors? Yes, and growing carrots in containers is easier than growing them in the garden because they thrive on a steady supply of moisture—something that’s hard to provide outdoors in the heat of summer. When you grow your own carrots, you have options that you’ll probably never see in the grocery store, including unusual shapes and a rainbow of colors. So grab a pot and let’s get to growing carrots indoors.
Can Carrots Grow Indoors?
Carrots are among the easiest vegetables to grow indoors, and your indoor carrot garden will be attractive as well as functional. Potted carrots fill their container with dark green, lacy foliage that you’ll be proud to display in any room on your home.
You can grow baby carrots in any size container, but longer varieties need deeper pots. Choose a pot that is at least 8 inches deep to grow short or half-long varieties, and one that is 10 to
12 inches deep for standard length carrots.
Fill the pot with good quality potting soil to within an inch of the top. Now you are ready to plant carrots.
How to Grow Carrot Plants in Pots
The first challenge to growing carrots indoors is getting those tiny little seeds onto the soil. To save yourself some frustration, don’t worry about trying to space them evenly around the pot. Just moisten the soil and sprinkle the seeds over the surface.
Once they germinate, clip out the extra seedlings with a pair of scissors so that the remaining carrots are about one-half inch apart. When they are about 3 inches tall and you can see which seedlings are the sturdiest, thin them again to about an inch apart or the distance recommended on the seed packet.
Place your potted carrots in a sunny window and keep the soil moist at the surface until the seeds germinate. Water the pot when the soil is dry at a depth of 1 inch once the seedlings begin to grow.
When the seedlings reach a height of 3 inches, it’s time to start a regular feeding schedule. Use a liquid houseplant fertilizer mixed at full strength every two weeks.
Harvest carrots any time after they develop their mature color. Tiny, immature carrots are a tasty treat, but you don’t get much carrot for your effort, so you probably want to let at least some of them grow to full size. Harvest the carrots by pulling them straight out of the soil. Digging around in the soil disturbs the roots of other carrots and may cause deformities.
Not enough carrots? Prolong the harvest by planting additional pots of carrots at two-week intervals. After all, you can never have too many carrots.
I’ve got a confession to make… I don’t really like carrots. I love growing them but I just don’t like eating them. This state of affairs pleases my neighbours no end as I plant a plethora of these pointy orange babies every year… and then I give them all away!. My dad always said I was hopping mad!
Warm Areas: All Year (except mid-summer)
Temperate Areas: September to March
Cool to Cold Areas: August to February
Position, Position, Position
As we are dealing with a root vegetable here it’s going to be necessary to get your hands dirty. Rocks, stones and really heavy soil will slow down growth and deform your carrots. So much so that you will want to film them for Australia’s Funniest Home Videos! Manually pick through your bed before planting, remove obstacles and treat really heavy soils with a mixture of sand and compost. Maybe even consider putting in a raised garden bed!
Carrots need good drainage and loads of gardeners will add sand to their clay or heavy loam soils to improve drainage. Carrots taste best when they are grown really quickly and good soil preparation is paramount here. Compost is good and, depending on the carrot varieties you going to grow, a nice deep topsoil layer is important. But if you want to grow a wee variety, like the round “ball” carrots or the baby carrots, topsoil depth is less important.
Carrots are best planted from seed rather than seedlings as they don’t transplant well. This is what is known as “direct sowing” and here’s how to do it. Firstly make a trench about 2cm deep and as long as you like. Then sow your carrot seed by tapping them out of the packet along the row. Fill this trench halfway up with a soil/sand mix or a shop bought seed raising mix – it’s pretty much the same thing. Press lightly on the covering mix to ensure contact with the soil and seed. Water it in gently so you don’t blast them out of the ground. Cover the bed with a light sprinkling of straw mulch. Keep the bed damp until your carrots pop their little heads through… this should take about 2 – 3 weeks.
Once the seedlings are 5cm high it’s time to go “Jenny Craig” and thin them out. This means pulling out the weaker or smaller seedlings and leaving about 3cm between each of your carrots. You will need to do this again when they get to about 12 – 15cm high, at which time you need to leave about 5cm between them. While this may seem a bit wasteful and unsustainable (heavens no!), it isn’t really. Seedlings from the first thinning can be composted or feed to the chooks, and the carrots pulled at the second thinning can actually be eaten (hooray!).
Carrots don’t mind a feed, just as long as it is not high in nitrogen. High nitrogen fertilisers will make big, bushy carrot tops but do nothing for the all-important root zones! I give mine a liquid feed of fertiliser tea every few weeks just to speed up the process – impatience and laziness are not good traits for a gardener. They really don’t need much these carrots!
What about the Water?
Like a couple of other Yummy Yard plants, over watering is a more serious issue than under watering. Seeds need to be kept damp when germinating but of course damp doesn’t mean floating away, or dying of thirst! Free draining soil is a must, as is using your soil moisture indicator (your favourite finger) to test the amount of water in the soil. Dry = bad; soaked = bad; slightly damp = perfect! Inconsistent watering regimes, especially allowing the soil to dry right out and then flooding it with water, will cause carrots to crack or split… a very ordinary result for all concerned!
Are We There Yet?
Often I am asked, “How can I tell if my carrots are ready?” and always I respond, “When did you plant them?” Keep track of when you sowed your carrot seed because you can start harvesting them after about 8 weeks. I harvest what neighbours need, when they need it -remember I don’t actually like them! This harvesting technique prolongs my crop and means all my carrots don’t come (and go) at once. However, you’ll want to get them all out of the ground before the sugars turn to starch, which happens at about 16 – 18 weeks.
Pests and the Rest
Pest and disease problems are almost non-existent for carrots apart from the carrot fly. Carrot flies lay their eggs in the young seedlings and their larvae eat and tunnel their way through the growing root. They can be deterred by using plenty of compost as well as by using some good companion plants, like spring onions, to act as decoys.
Carrots, like coriander, can bolt, which means they have a tendency to run to seed before producing their roots, generally when unusually cool weather is experienced in early spring.
Here it is…breaking news set to revolutionise vegetable growing as we know it… carrots can be grown in pots! I know, you’re shocked, but it’s true. Some of the small “golf ball” carrots are awesome in pots, as are baby carrots. They’re an excellent addition to any Yummy Yard as they offer a really high yield to space ratio. Check out the many varieties of carrots available. You’ll be amazed at the shapes, sizes and even colours that abound.
Carrot Cumin Salad
Such a simple salad yet so delicious. It goes with everything from a curry to a chicken parma. Whip this up in the morning before work! It’s a great lunch.
A couple of handfuls of homegrown spinach, lettuce, rocket or other greens
A carrot or two, plus their green tops.
A handful of walnuts and sultanas
1 tsp cumin
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp oil of your choice
Salt and pepper
Coarsely chop or tear greens and the carrot tops.
Peel strips off the carrot using your vegetable peeler.
Combine greens and carrot peel strips in a large bowl.
Place all dressing ingredients in a jar. Shake well then pour over salad. Toss so that everything is coated.
Carrots come in colors besides orange.
USDA photo by Lance Cheung.
Carrots are a root vegetable well-loved by many and heralded as an excellent source of vitamin A. This healthy vegetable is pretty easy to grow and doesn’t require a lot of room. And carrots are wonderful to grow with kids—they love being able to pull something out of the ground and eat it (after washing, of course).
Originating in central Asia, carrots (Daucus carota var. sativus) have been cultivated for centuries. But this cold-hardy plant still deserves a spot in the modern fall vegetable garden.
The edible part of a carrot is the root, typically orange in color. The leaves have a lacy appearance and form from the base of the 1 to 2 foot tall plant. Carrots are biennial, and will produce white lacy flowers in the second growing season if the roots are not harvested.
The classic orange carrot of today is actually a relative newcomer to the vegetable world. Originally, carrots were purple, white, red, yellow, and black. Today, “rainbow” carrots such as ‘Yellowbunch‘, Purple Haze’, and ‘White Satin’ have made a comeback with increasing popularity. Sizes vary widely as well, from short and stout Chantennays, to mid-sized, blunt Nantes types, to the long, tapered Imperator varieties. There are also “mini” and “radish-style” carrots—perfect for growing in containers.
Planting and Care
Carrots thrive during the cool season here in Florida and will do best when grown in deep, well-drained, and fertile soil. They need a good bit of moisture especially as the roots rapidly expand, which is something to keep in mind particularly since Florida gardeners are growing carrots during the drier part of the year.
The most important thing about planting carrots is the soil. Carrots need soil that is loose and free of rocks, stones, or roots. Anything that disturbs the development of the main carrot root will cause branching; you’ll still get a carrot, but it won’t look quite like the kind you find in the store. Strangely shaped carrots are perfectly edible, but they can be hard to peel because of the shape. Try to fluff up, loosen, and clear out the soil about a foot deep to prevent anything from obstructing your carrot tuber growth. Soil-borne pests like nematodes can feed on the root tip as well, cause forked or distorted carrots.
When choosing a location to plant your carrots remember they ideally need 8 hours of sunlight. However, as root vegetables they may be okay with less sun, so don’t be afraid to give them a try even if you don’t have a very sunny spot.
Carrots can be planted August to March in North and Central Florida and from September to March in South Florida. If you stagger the planting—meaning you plant some once every few weeks—you will be more likely to have a steady supply for harvest. Carrots are also great for succession planting, meaning once you pull them up you plant something else in their place.
Some varieties for planting in Florida gardens include ‘Imperator’, ‘Nantes’, ‘Danvers’, and ‘Chantenay’. You’ll want to space carrot rows 10 inches apart with plants spaced 1–3 inches apart. Seeds should be planted shallowly, about quarter-inch deep in the soil. While we think of purple carrots as a unique variety, purple is actually the original carrot color. Varieties like ‘Cosmic Purple’, ‘Purple Haze’, and ‘Purple Dragon’ are purple on the outside and white or orange on the inside.
A good trick to ensure that you get a nice straight row of carrots planted at the right depth is to press the handle of a hoe or rake gently into the soil. This gives you a little indent in the earth in which to place the seeds. Then you can sprinkle soil over top of the seeds and give them a light watering.
Don’t worry if you don’t see any above-soil action right away; carrots are slow to germinate. The soil should be kept consistently moist throughout the germination and growing period. Do not let the top of the soil dry until the seeds have germinated. This may require frequent light irrigations every day or two if the weather is very hot and dry. Once seedlings are about an inch tall, be sure to thin them to the recommended spacing. Thinning is important; with such tiny seeds it’s very easy to overplant your carrot rows. Each carrot plant needs between 1 and 3 inches, depending on variety, to grow.
Top-view of the flower structure of Daucus carota, Queen Anne’s lace or wild carrot, Bedford County, Virginia. Doug Goldman, USDA-NRCS-NPDT
Some gardeners choose to plant radishes along with carrots. Radishes germinate quickly; this helps mark where the tiny carrot seeds have been planted. It also allows for some growing space, as the radishes are harvested before the carrots need the space to grow. For the best carrot production however, just planting a row of optimally spaced carrots is ideal.
As the growing season advances the carrots require less water, but keep it scheduled; inconsistent watering will cause the roots to crack.
Carrots need between 70 to 120 days after planting to be ready for harvesting; exact timing will depend on the variety. Carrots can be harvested and eaten early, but when grown past their prime, they become tough, woody, and inedible.
Practice crop rotation when planting carrots. If carrots are repeatedly planted in the same place, you run the potential of encountering an infestation of wire worms or problems with nematodes. While largely free of pest and disease problems, one serious disease of carrots in Florida is Alternaria leaf spot, which can be serious if the foliage stays wet too long.
- Florida Plant ID: Carrots
- Let Me Introduce You to This Little Gem: The Carrot, Not the Carat — UF/IFAS Extension Marion County blog
- Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide
- Insect Management for Carrots
Also on Gardening Solutions
- Cool Season Vegetables
- Vegetable Gardening by Season
Fertilizing and Watering Carrots
About a week after planting the seeds, you should start thinking about watering carrots. Carrots require about an inch of water per week to reach their full potential. If no rain falls in your area, you’ll need to water the carrots yourself. A slow, deep soak is the best method. You can use a soaker hose or a drip irrigation system, but these options can be expensive. A mist from a garden hose sprayer will do the job just fine.
Before watering carrots, dig down about 4 inches into the soil beside the plants. If the soil is moist, you’re probably in good shape. If it’s dry, it’s time to water. It’s fine if the foliage gets wet. Just make sure to water slowly enough so that no soil is eroded away. You want to water carrots deeply enough so that the bottom of the root gets plenty of water. Imagine that a growing carrot might be 6 inches under the surface of the soil. If the bottom of the carrot doesn’t get enough water, it will likely end up deformed or fail to reach its full size potential.
It’s a good idea to water carrots in the early morning hours. This will allow any unused water to be evaporated by the afternoon sun.
After the tops of the carrots emerge, you can apply a thin layer of mulch. Grass clippings, chopped up leaves or stray all work well for mulch. This mulch will prevent too much water from being evaporated from the soil. As the carrot tops get taller, more mulch can be applied.
If the soil in your garden is not rich in nutrients, you may need to fertilize your carrots. Carrots should be fertilized when the tops have reached 3 inches tall. A granular type fertilizer will work well, if used in moderation. Choose a fertilizer that has little nitrogen and more potassium and phosphate – 0-10-10 or 5-15-15 will work well. Pay attention to the 3 number code on the bag of fertilizer. These three numbers indicate the amount of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium that are contained in that particular fertilizer, respectively. For instance, a 10-10-10 fertilizer contains 10% nitrogen, 10% phosphate and 10% potassium. A 5-10-10 bag would contain 5% nitrogen, 10% phosphate and 10% potassium. Nitrogen encourages a plant to produce more foliage. Phosphate and potassium encourages more root development. Because carrots are a root vegetable that grow below the surface of the soil, phosphate and potassium are more beneficial to carrot growth.
Apply the fertilizer at half the rate suggested by the manufacturer. If the directions call for 1 1/2 pounds for every 100 square feet, use 1/2 to 3/4 pound. Too much fertilizer will result in less flavorful carrots with forked and hairy roots. Once you have applied the granular fertilizer, water it in well.
Most of the time, water soluble fertilizers (the kind that are mixed with water and then sprayed onto the
plants) contain too much nitrogen and should not be used. If you want to grow carrots organically, work plenty of compost into the soil prior to planting. You can also apply a side dressing of fish emulsions to add nutrients to the soil.
Now that you know all about fertilizing and watering carrots, it’s time to think about harvesting your crop.
How Much Water Do Seed Carrots Need?
A carrot seed crop in bloom near Nyssa, Oregon.
Crunchy and colorful, carrots are America’s sixth most popular vegetable. We each eat about 11 pounds of carrots a year—a low-calorie source of fiber, potassium, and beta-carotene, the nutrient that our bodies use to form vitamin A.
It took 400,000 pounds of seed, worth about $16 million to producers, to grow 1995’s 3.8-billion-pound carrot crop valued at $448 million.
The way that some of the largest seed companies in this country currently water their seed carrots has been influenced, in part, by an ARS study that was first reported about 5 years ago.
“Our experiments,” says agronomist and study team member Jeffrey J. Steiner, “established for the first time the amount of water that carrot plants need to produce their best yields of clean, live seed. Our reports apparently motivated people to start taking a new look at their then-conventional practices and to experiment with some changes of their own.”
Steiner said the 3-year study revealed important differences in the water requirements of the two leading types of commercially grown carrots, Nantes and Imperator.
Seeds for the cylindrical Nantes-type carrots are sold mostly for growers overseas. American farmers and consumers favor the tapered Imperator carrots.
When Nantes and Imperator are grown for seed in a hot, dry climate like the research team’s central California study site, they need about 22 to 25 inches of water from the time they are planted until seed from the almost-white, umbrella-shaped king umbel—the uppermost flower cluster atop the seed stalk—and lesser umbels beneath it matures.
In general, Nantes carrots produce larger amounts of clean, live seed when moderately water-stressed; that is, when they receive only about 80 percent of the irrigation water that they require.
That’s not the case for Imperator carrot plants, however. Imperators may bear smaller quantities of viable seed if they receive, for example, only 60 to 80 percent of the water that they need, instead of 100 percent of their estimated requirement.
If given too much water, such as 120 percent of their needs, Nantes carrots will likely yield fewer live seeds, the scientists say. But extra water apparently doesn’t dampen Imperator production of healthy seed.
These findings, from scrutiny of some 2,000 seed carrot plants grown in a research field near the Fresno laboratory, apply not only to key seed-producing regions of California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, but also to many other sites where seed carrots are grown.
That’s because the levels of water stress that the researchers recommend for boosting production of healthy seed should hold true for a range of soil types and climates.
To gauge water stress, growers can sample a few of carrots’ fernlike leaves with a standard, tabletop instrument known as a pressure bomb. They can compare these field readings to the scientists’ recommendations, then irrigate accordingly—either adding or withholding water to meet or maintain the prescribed levels.
The study was the work of Robert B. Hutmacher, plant physiologist with the ARS Water Management Research Laboratory, and Steiner, formerly on the faculty at California State University, Fresno, and now at the ARS National Forage Seed Production Research Center at Corvallis, Oregon.
The two collaborated with agricultural engineer James E. Ayars and biological lab technician Susan S. Vail, both of the ARS Fresno laboratory; and Alvin B. Mantel of Israel’s Volcani Center, who at the time of the experiment was a visiting scientist at Fresno. — By Marcia Wood, ARS.
“How Much Water Do Seed Carrots Need?” was published in the June 1996 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.
Carrots would be more fun to grow if their seeds were larger and easier to plant. Then there’s the wait. After sowing seeds, carrots take their jolly time sprouting, often waiting three weeks before they show green. By that time the neighbouring weeds are flourishing and it’s too hard to find the tiny carrots.
Don’t despair. Those who have planted carrots for years have their tricks of the trade, and are happy to pass them along.
Mix the tiny seeds with some other similarly sized grains to make them easier to sow. Sand will do the trick just fine. Or raid the kitchen and look for something like oatmeal or corn meal.
Plant a radish seed on both ends of your row of carrots in order to find the slow growing carrots. Radish seeds sprout in lightning speed and make perfect markers for the slow to sprout carrot seeds.
Remember that carrots need heat and water to sprout. If the soil is cold seeds will take longer to sprout. Ditto for dry soil. You can’t do anything about cold weather, but you can add water when rain doesn’t fall from the sky. Use a watering can to keep the soil moist over the carrot seeds and repeat daily until seeds are up.
Don’t bother going through the effort of starting seeds indoors with the hopes of getting a head start on plants. Carrots seedlings don’t enjoy being transplanted and their small size makes them too difficult to handle.
Once seeds are up, thin them out so they are two inches apart. This is difficult to do because it seems a shame to destroy plants that have potential. Go ahead and do it anyway so the remaining plants can develop fully. Carrots that are growing too close together will grow stunted and contorted.
Water faithfully while the carrots are growing. If your carrot patch has been allowed to dry out and has remained dry for more than a week, add water slowly rather than giving a whollop of water. Watering too fast may cause carrots to split.
Sow carrot seeds any time after the middle of May. Put down new seeds every two weeks to extend your harvest. Most carrot varieties need 60 to 75 days before they are ready for harvest.
Don’t allow yourself to become bewildered when choosing carrot seeds from a seed rack display. If your soil is clayey, choose a variety that grows to six or eight inches, and leave the longer pointed carrots for raised gardens. Have fun with the novelty white, red or yellow carrots.
If you want to grow baby carrots like the small ones packaged in plastic bags, you had better move to California. Baby carrots are remanufactured so to speak, by cutting long thin carrots in short uniform lengths, and then are banged together to round off the ends and make them appear smooth and polished.