Carrots are one of my favorite vegetables to plant in the garden. They’re fairly low maintenance, once you get them growing. They’re versatile (even the greens are edible), and they store really well, making them a fantastic addition to any self sufficient garden.
Homegrown carrots are delicious. Like most other vegetables grown at home, you have a much larger variety available to you than any you’ll find at the grocery store. Before we started growing our own, I had no idea there were purple, red, white, yellow, and all sorts of shades of orange available in carrots. Each with its own flavor profile, crunch, and storage ability.
They can also be a little tricky to grow for some gardeners. I know we struggled with them in our clay soil the first year we tried to grow them in our newly created garden bed. So, once we built raised beds and filled them with sandy, loamy soil... they grew like wildfire.
Like us, if you’re patient and learn the few tricks I’m going to teach you, you’ll be harvesting these beauties in no time.
Carrot Varieties & Types
Carrots are categorized based off shape and size. There are five main types of carrots. And, like I mentioned, there are tons of colorful varieties to choose from. The types are:
Danvers- This is what most folks picture when they think of carrots. They’re long and skinny, thick at the top and taper to a point at the bottom. They’re named after where they were developed – which is Danvers, Massachusetts. This type is slightly more tolerant of poor soil than others.
Imperator- This is typically the type commercial growers use. They look a lot like the aforementioned danvers, except they’re slightly thicker and typically have a higher sugar content. The greens of these varieties grows very quickly.
Nantes- Unlike danvers and imperator type carrots, this type is perfectly cylindrical. So, instead of it tapering off – it will be as thick at the bottom as it is at the top. This type is named after the region in France for which it originated. This type is more quickly growing than other types.
Ball or Mini- Like the name implies, these are miniature, generally ball-shaped carrots that more closely resemble a radish than a carrot. These carrots only grow 3″ to 4″ long, making them excellent for containers.
Chantenay- This type is great for gardeners growing in poor soil. The roots grow about 7″ long, making them another great choice for containers. One disadvantage of this type, is it’s best to harvest it exactly on the time frame suggested on the seed packet, otherwise they become woody tasting. These carrots have excellent storage capabilities in comparison to the other varieties.
I really love adding variety and color to my vegetable garden, so I typically grow several different varieties that span all types of carrots. Of course, I have a few of my favorites like, black nebula, atomic red, a sweet type, and usually a rainbow packet of seed for good measure, so I’m sure to get a fun variety.
How to Grow Carrots Successfully
When to Plant Carrots
Carrots like cooler weather – which means they’re best planted in early spring – or a great autumn crop, for most climates. In warmer climates, you can grow carrots throughout the winter months. In cooler climates you can typically succession plant and continue seeding throughout the summer for a continual harvest, just provide your crop with a little afternoon shade or some shade cloth to help keep the soil cool.
Carrots can withstand a bit of frost, in fact, they can withstand temperatures down to 15°F. A bit of frost actually makes the carrots a bit sweeter, so fall carrots are usually a bit sweeter than they are in the spring. Typically, you want to plant them about a month (3-5 weeks) before your last frost in the spring and about 10 weeks before your first expected frost in the fall.
Carrots take about 3-4 months to mature for harvest, and your spring crop can take a while to get started. I’ve found that if my carrots aren’t germinating as quickly in the spring, I’m probably being impatient. While they are a cool weather crop, they germinate the quickest when soil temperatures are around 70°F.
Selecting a Site & Preparing Soil for Carrots
Soil is probably the most important aspect of successful carrot growing. They thrive in loose, loamy, sandy soils so the roots can easily push through the soil. If you have clay soil, like I mentioned above, you’ll have a difficult time growing carrots.
Carrots need full sun, though they can tolerate some shade – especially in the warmer days of summer.
This crop also doesn’t like particularly rich soil. In fact, if you have overly rich soil, or try to fertilize them, they’ll branch, develop side roots, and split. It’s best to just toss them in, water deeply, and leave them alone.
If you don’t have a great loamy soil site for carrots, you can do one of two things; either till the soil at least a foot down and use a variety that will grow well in poor soil, or you can grow them in containers. We chose to build raised beds and always plant our carrots in those now.
How to Plant Carrots
Carrots must be sown directly into the garden. They do not transplant well, at all. Carrot seeds, if you’ve never seen them, are very, very tiny and lightweight. You have two options to plant them; you can plant them in rows, which is easiest using seed tape, or you can simply scatter them throughout the soil.
Generally, I scatter them because it seems as if every time I go to sow carrot seeds, mother nature has decided to produce 20 mph winds. It’s not so much how they’re sown, but how they’re thinned, that will produce a superior crop.
You’ll only want to plant the seeds at a depth of 1/4″, if planting in rows. Keep the rows about a foot apart, and the seeds roughly 2-3″ apart. If you’re scattering, you’ll simply gently sprinkle the carrots on top of the planting area. Just make sure that every area of your planting space has a bit of seed sprinkled. After all, not every seed will germinate.
After you’ve sown your seeds, you’ll simply sprinkle soil gently on top of the seeds. No more than 1/4″ of soil on top, mind you, or they will likely not sprout up above the surface.
Next, you’ll want to water the planting area. Make sure to do so with a light mist, not a huge jet of water – so your seeds don’t move around too much. Be sure to keep the top layer of soil evenly moist until you see the seeds beginning to sprout. And be patient, because this can take 2-3 weeks, sometimes longer, before you’ll see those cute little green sprouts coming up.
After they’ve sprouted, continue providing them with lots of water, as carrots absolutely love water. The years we have a particularly rainy season – the carrots grow like crazy! There’s no hard, fast rule about water for carrots simply because climates and seasons can vary so greatly. Just be sure to keep the soil consistently moist.
If you’ve ever harvested a particularly hairy carrot, it’s probably due to lack of moisture. The carrot will send off little “shoots” in search of more water to grow, and those are the “hairs” you’re seeing.
How to Thin Carrots
In order to grow a large carrot, of course, each needs space to grow. If you have a whole pile of seeds that germinate in one little area, they’re going to fight for space. And since I inevitably plant in 20 mph winds every single time I take a packet of carrot seed outside, I generally try to thin the crop a little. Though, I’m not particularly meticulous about it.
About a month after sprouting, you can start thinning a little. To thin, you’ll want to find any overly-crowded spots of sprouts in the soil. Don’t worry if a couple, or even a few, are growing close to one another. I’m talking places where mother nature decided to blow all the seed to one corner.
Find the least developed tops, and pull those to make more room for the more developed, stronger carrots to grow stronger roots.
Once two to three months have passed – if things are still looking a little crowded, you can thin naturally by simply pulling some up to use fresh, leaving more room for the other carrots to grow larger. Believe it or not, the smaller the carrot is, the better tasting it typically is… which makes this natural thinning awesome. We generally go out once, sometimes twice a week and pull a few, to naturally thin and eat them for supper.
Like I said, we aren’t very meticulous about thinning. Most carrots will develop just fine. Even if they are on the smaller side, they’re still perfectly edible and delicious.
How & When to Harvest Carrots
Like I mentioned earlier – smaller carrots are typically better tasting, so don’t think there’s a hard fast rule about harvest time. However, it typically takes 3-4 months, depending on growing conditions, to reach full maturity for most carrot varieties.
Sometimes, you’re lucky and the carrot will begin to push up out of the soil when it’s ready, much like onions do. But, most of the time that’s not the case… at least in my experience. Generally, a carrot should be about a thumbs-width in diameter when they’re mature. If you don’t see any carrots popping above the surface, simply move the soil around a little around the base and see how wide they are, or pull a few up and see if they’re the size you want.
If you pull a few up, either while thinning on a weekly basis or just to see how large they are, and they’re a little on the thin side, give them a little more time to develop.
Carrots are great to grow for a fall harvest because the flavor is improved when they experience at least one fall harvest. We grow them in both spring and fall because, well, we love carrots.
If you choose to leave them over winter, carrots are biennial. So, they will flower and produce seed in the spring – which you can collect and then save the seed, if you choose.
How to Store Carrots
Oftentimes, we freeze our carrots because we don’t have a lot of cold storage available. But, we do keep some in cold storage as well.
To store your carrots long-term, you’ll want to clean the dirt off and remove the greens. If you leave the greens, they’ll muck up your carrots fairly quickly because they do not stay fresh long.
You can either eat your greens, or compost them. But no sense in letting them go to waste. We often feed some to our rabbits as well, a treat they really enjoy.
Start by washing the carrots under cool water to remove the dirt and debris. Then, chop the greens off, leaving about 1/2″ of the green on top. Allow them to air dry completely, and then you can put them in resealable bags in the refrigerator where they will stay for a very long time.
If you prefer putting them in a long-term root storage, you can put them in tubs with sawdust in a cool, dry area, or a proper root cellar.
That’s all there is to growing your own carrots in your home garden. This sweet treat, that the Irish referred to as “underground honey” is a must have for your self sufficient garden and so much fun to grow!