The carrot has been cultivated for thousands of years and is one of the first vegetables to be domesticated. It is originally from Europe and Southwestern Asia but now grows worldwide.
Carrots are a root vegetable that is usually orange in color and has a crunchy texture. The most commonly consumed part of the carrot is the taproot, although the stems and leaves are also edible. While the carrot is a biennial plant, it is mostly harvested in the first year of growth.
Common Types of Carrots
So many different kinds of carrots to choose from for your home garden! While orange carrots are the most popular, there are also colored varieties that will produce roots that are yellow, red, white, and even purple!
The lengths of carrots can range from 2 to 10 inches. Some carrots are sweet and can be eaten raw, while other carrots are good for storing for a long time in a root cellar or other cold area during winter.
Carrots are generally classified by the shape of their roots, and usually fall into one of four general cultivars:
Chantenay carrots are stubby carrots that are wide at the top and taper towards a blunt, round tip. Their short, 6-inch conical roots grow easily through heavy soil. They are delicious for fresh eating, and a good choice for freezing, canning, and storing. Varieties include Carson Hybrid, Hercules, Red Cored Chantenay, and Royal Chantenay.
Danvers is a type of carrot that is medium-sized and has a wide top that tapers down to a thin, pointed root. It can grow to be about 7 inches long and is known for being able to easily penetrate through heavy, clay soils. Danvers carrots have a strong flavor and can be eaten fresh or preserved by being frozen, canned, or stored. Some common varieties of Danvers carrots are Danvers Half Long and Danvers 126.
The Imperator carrot is a variety of carrot that is commonly found at grocery stores, both in full-size and baby form. Imperator carrots have long, straight roots that taper to a point at the end, and require loose, deep soil to grow in. They have a sweet flavor that is tasty raw, cooked, or preserved through canning, storing, or freezing. There are several different cultivars of Imperator carrots, which vary in size, flavor, and texture, including Atomic Red, Avenger, Imperator 58, Japanese Imperial Long, and Sugarsnax 54.
Nantes carrots are tube-shaped with a blunt tip. They grow best in well-draining soil without competition from weeds. The skin is smooth with a sweet flavor. They are good for fresh eating, raw or cooked, or preserving by freezing, storing, or canning. There are numerous varieties of Nantes carrots, including Bolero, Little Finger, Mokum, Napoli, Nelson, Scarlet Nantes, and Yaya.
Most seed catalogs categorize carrots by the amount of time it takes for them to mature, their color, or their intended use, such as whether they are meant to be eaten fresh, used in processing, or meant for storing. Some examples include:
- Early Carrots are usually small and tend to be ready to harvest in around 60 days. Earlies are ideal for sowing in spring for a quick crop, or in late summer for a fall harvest before the ground is covered in snow. Varieties of early carrots include Amsterdam, Minicore, and Mokum.
- Main Crop Carrots or main season carrots can be planted in spring to mid-summer, for summer to fall harvest. These usually take longer to mature and can withstand summer heat without bolting. Main season carrots include Hercules, Nantes, Naval, and Sugarsnax 54.
- Storage Carrots: While many carrots can be stored in a root cellar or cool area for winter, some varieties are bred specifically to improve their long-term storage capabilities, including Bolero, Oxheart, and Kuroda.
- Colored Carrots are fun to grow. In addition to orange, carrots also come in purple, red, white, and yellow. They all have similar flavors and textures as orange carrots. Colored carrot varieties include Amarillo, Atomic Red, Dragon, Lunar White, Purple Haze, White Satin, and Yellowstone. You can also buy a mix of different colors that are packaged together and have the same maturity rate such as Calliope Blend, Rainbow Mix, and Starburst Carrot Blend.
- Short and Baby Carrots: True baby carrots are small, mini carrots that are harvested young for their sweet, fresh flavor. Some are rounded ball-shaped, while some grow tapered short roots. Short carrots are ideal for growing in containers, indoors under lights, or in heavy or poor soil in the garden. Baby carrot varieties include Adelaide, Atlas, Bambino, Little Finger, and Tonda di Parigi
Tips for Growing Carrots
Position your carrot seeds or seedlings in an area of your garden that gets plenty of sun throughout the day. The soil in this area should be loose and well-drained to allow for easy root growth. Keep an eye on your plants and water them regularly, being careful not to overwater. When the carrots are big enough to harvest, pull them up carefully so as not to damage the roots.
When to Plant Carrots
Carrots can be grown in the early spring and fall, as they can tolerate light frosts.
You should start your seeds when the average date of the last expected frost for your area is. You can find your estimated last frost date by contacting your local extension office or looking it up online.
Carrot seeds can be sown about 2 to 3 weeks before the last spring frost date, once the soil temperature has warmed to at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the soil can be easily worked.
What you are looking for is soil that has had time to drain and dry off after the winter snow melts. To test if your soil is ready, take a handful and squeeze it. The clump should hold together without any extra moisture dripping out. If you wiggle your fingers a bit, the clump should easily crumble. If your soil is too wet, wait a few more days and check again. Seeds planted in wet soil will rot.
The best rate of germination occurs when the soil temps have reached 55 degrees to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid planting your carrots in soil that exceeds 75 degrees. High temperatures result in poor germination, low yields, as well as bitter carrots.
For a fall harvest of carrots, sow the seeds 10 weeks before the first winter frost date. Carrots need time to fully form before the fall frost and snow wipes out the garden.
How to Prepare the Garden Bed
The best soil for carrots is light, sandy, and loamy, with high levels of organic matter. This type of soil is loose, which is important for straight carrots. The number one cause of forked and malformed carrots is heavy, compacted soil.
Prepare your garden beds for planting by removing weeds and loosening the soil deeply. Improve the quality of the soil by adding mature compost and a balanced organic slow-release fertilizer.
As you till the soil, be sure to inspect it carefully and remove any rocks, sticks, or other large pieces of debris. By eliminating obstacles, you’ll give your carrots a head start and they’ll be more likely to reach their full potential.
If the weather has been dry, water the beds thoroughly the day before you plan on sowing your seeds.
Your carrots will need plenty of space to grow, so make sure your garden bed is at least 10 to 12 inches deep. The wider the better!
Planting Carrot Seeds
Since carrots grow a long taproot, it’s best to sow the seeds directly in the garden or container where they will grow. This way, they won’t have to be transplanted later.
planting carrot seeds can be difficult because they are so small. an easy way to plant them is to use pelleted seeds. these are coated with a layer of clay to make them larger and easier to handle. another option is to make homemade seed mats. these evenly space the seeds, make sowing easier, and eliminate thinning later.
You should space your carrot seeds out when planting them, either by scattering them over the surface of the soil or by planting them in shallow furrows. This will make it easier to thin out the carrot sprouts later on.
Don’t plant your carrot seeds too deep or you’ll suffocate them. Just give them a light dusting of soil, enough to cover the seeds. Water them in well, and keep the soil evenly moist until the seeds sprout.
It takes two to three weeks for the carrot seeds to sprout. You can sow more seeds every two to three weeks for a continuous harvest.
The carrot roots need full sun to partial shade in order to grow quickly and develop sugars.
The roots of carrots will split and become deformed if the soil is full of rocks and clumps. Carrots prefer a slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8.
Water your carrots with at least one inch of water every week. This will help prevent the soil from drying out and will also help keep the roots of the carrots cool.
Temperature and Humidity
Although these biennials are typically grown as annuals, they grow best and taste best when the average nighttime temperature is approximately 55 degrees Fahrenheit with an average daytime temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit. In warmer climates, carrots are sometimes planted as a late fall and winter crop.
If your soil is not rich in organic matter, you will need to feed your carrots about two weeks after their tops emerge. Any good quality organic vegetable fertilizer will work. You shouldn’t use too much nitrogen fertilizer, because it mostly aids foliage growth, and carrots are grown for their roots.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
The most troublesome pest for carrots is the carrot rust fly.
The insect lays its eggs in the soil near the top of the carrot. When the eggs hatch, the larvae burrow down into the soil and then into the carrot’s roots, where they feed and create tunnels through the carrot. Some pests can be thwarted by rotating where you plant each year, but the easiest method is to grow your carrots under row covers (garden fabric).
If you are having issues with nematodes, which are tiny worms, later in the season, solarization, or heating the soil, can kill them. If you are rotating to another crop, plant carrots in a different location.
There are a lot of animals that will want to eat carrots, even if they don’t notice the roots growing below the soil surface. Deer, groundhogs, rabbits, opossum, and several others will need to be kept out of the garden—fencing is really the only effective method.
A handful of diseases that affect carrots include Alternaria leaf blight, carrot yellows, and bacterial soft rot. If the plants become infected, there is not much that can be done. It is important to keep a close watch and remove any plants that show signs of disease. At the end of the season, it is important to clean up all debris. The next year, the carrots should be moved to a different section of the garden because the microorganisms can persist in the soil.
How to Preserve Carrots
Cut the tops of the carrots off, leaving about half an inch left attached to the root, if you want them to last several weeks stored in the refrigerator. The tops are edible, so you can keep them if you want. If you don’t want the tops, they’re great for your compost bin.
Wash your carrot roots under cold water to remove any dirt. Here are several ways to preserve carrots longer:
The process of blanching and freezing carrots is an effective way of preserving your carrot crop. Having a large quantity of carrots in the freezer makes it very convenient to use them as ingredients in cooked dishes, as the preparatory work has been completed in advance.
You can preserve carrots by canning them. Pressure canning carrots makes them shelf stable, and you can prepare them quickly for meals. You only need to cook them for 10 minutes on the stove.
Storing in a Root Cellar
The flavor of carrots sweetens after a frost. Carrots grown for winter storage should be left in the ground for a few light touches of frost, but harvested before the ground freezes. The roots should be dug up, the greens trimmed to 1-inch, and the loose soil brushed off. Only good-quality roots without any bruising, splits, or damage should be stored.
To store carrots, put them in buckets, boxes, or totes packed with damp sand or sawdust. Arrange them by size, with the biggest ones at the bottom, and cover each layer with 1/4 inch of sand or sawdust. Add a final layer of 2 inches on top. For best results, store them in a cool basement or root cellar at 32 to 35 degrees Fahrenheit and 90% relative humidity. Carrots kept under these conditions will stay fresh for up to six months.