Carrots are a staple in many diets, and while it may be easy enough to buy a bag of carrots whenever you need some, nothing quite beats the fresh flavour and crunchy texture of carrots that you’ve grown yourself. Even better, carrots are a very low-maintenance vegetable to grow – they don’t take up much room and store well long-term, meaning that you could be eating homegrown carrots throughout the year.
Growing Carrots: A Quick Snapshot
When to Sow – Mar-Jul
When to Plant – Apr-Jul
When to Harvest – May-Feb
Average Yield per Plant – 70g
Spacing – 5-8cm
Depth – 1cm
How to Grow Carrots at Home
Not only are carrots such a simple vegetable to cultivate, but growing your own also gives you access to a wonderful array of different varieties. Carrots come in so many different shapes and sizes, and you’ll soon notice that the carrots you grow yourself have a much higher sugar content, and are therefore much sweeter, than anything you could buy.
Growing Requirements for Carrots
While carrots are adaptable to both full sun and partial shade, they’re much more particular about soil type. Since you want those roots to grow as long as possible, you’ll need to make sure that your soil is loose and airy. Not only will heavy and clumpy soil prevent carrot roots from stretching downwards, but any rocks and stones will also inhibit growth.
This means that, in addition to clearing away any obstacles in your carrot growing area, you should also consider mixing in some fine compost or sand to lighten up the soil.
How to Grow Carrots from Seed
Carrot roots don’t take well to being transplanted, which is why most gardeners will direct sow their seeds. However, if you’d still like to try starting your seeds off indoors, it’s definitely possible – you’ll just need to be very careful when the time comes to transplant your seedlings.
Water the compost well, ensuring that excess water is able to freely drain away from the bottom of the modules
Sow your seeds over the surface of the compost. You can either aim for one seed per module, or grow them in bunches, with 3-4 seeds in each module
Gently press your seeds into the compost, so that they’re about 0.5-1cm underneath the surface of the soil
Very lightly water your modules again, and then place them somewhere protected. Temperatures of around 10ºC are ideal for germination
Keep the compost in your modules consistently moist during the germination process. You should start to see seedlings appearing in about 1-2 weeks. Once seedlings appear, give them a week or so to grow before thinning out any extra seedlings in each module.
How to Direct Sow Carrot Seeds:
Prepare your growing area. If your soil is dry, give it some water before sowing
Make shallow drills in the ground. These should be about 1cm deep, with each row spaced about 15-30cm apart (depending on the variety that you’re growing)
Sow your seeds thinly and then cover them over with soil. Keep the soil consistently moist during the germination process
Just like when sown indoors, the seeds should take about 1-2 weeks to germinate, although harsher weather conditions could result in a wait of 3 weeks.
How to Plant Carrots Outside
Once your carrot seedlings are about 3cm tall, they can be transplanted outside. Don’t wait too long to do this – if the roots grow too long and end up tangled, they won’t transplant well.
Once you’ve prepared your growing area, gently ease your carrot seedlings out from their modules. Not only are the roots extremely delicate at this stage, but so are the stems and leaves, so be very careful when handling them. If you’ve multi-sown your modules, then keep all of the seedlings together, rather than splitting them up.
Place each seedling into a small hole, spacing each plant about 5-8cm apart. If you’re planting in rows, then keep your rows 15-30cm apart. Cover the rootball back over with soil and very gently firm the soil down. Then, give your seedlings some water.
How to Plant Carrots in a Greenhouse
Carrots do well in greenhouses during the cooler months of the year, but they suffer in that extra heat once summer arrives. That being said, growing carrots in a greenhouse is a great way to produce an early spring harvest, as well as a longer growing/harvesting season in the autumn and winter.
Since a greenhouse already provides extra warmth, along with protection from the elements, your carrots will do best if you direct sow them. To do this, follow the same methods as when sowing outside.
Alternatively, if you don’t have any space in your greenhouse beds, try growing some carrots in a container instead. Choose varieties that have been bred for this – they’ll be shorter, meaning that your containers won’t need to be quite so deep.
How to Care for Carrots
Carrots don’t need too much attention as they grow. However, there are a few things to keep an eye on to ensure a good harvest:
Carrots are generally quite drought-tolerant from the seedling stage onwards. In fact, over-watering carrots can cause them to crack.
However, you also don’t want the soil to ever run completely dry – carrots still need a certain amount of moisture in order to properly grow. This means that, if your carrots are growing outside and there has been a long dry spell, you’ll need to water them once or twice a week. Greenhouse carrots will need to be watered much more regularly.
Once your carrot tops are about 8cm tall, consider giving them some feed. Look for a fertiliser that’s low in nitrogen but high in potassium and phosphate – this will help to encourage root, rather than foliage, growth.
Slow-release granular formulas work well, and this will only need to be applied once a month.
Carrots that have been sown indoors and then planted out have a head start when it comes to weeds. However, carrot seedlings that have been direct sown can often end up suffocated by weeds, preventing them from properly growing.
Weeding around your carrots is important, but you also need to be careful not to disturb any carrot roots while you’re pulling weeds out. One way to cut back on the amount of weeding needed is to lay a mulch around your carrot plants. This will also help to keep moisture levels more consistent, which should give you healthier carrots.
If you do notice weeds popping up near your carrot roots, use some scissors to snip these off at the base, rather than pulling them out.
How to Harvest Carrots
Carrots are usually ready for harvesting about 12-16 weeks after they have been sown. While giant roots are definitely impressive, smaller carrots are much sweeter and more tender, so pick them as soon as they are big enough to use.
If you have an autumn harvest, then wait until you’ve had your first hard frost before pulling your carrots for winter storage. The cold temperatures trigger the carrots into sending extra sugars down into their roots, making them much sweeter.
To harvest a carrot, gently loosen the soil around it with a hand trowel, and then use your other hand to pull the carrot out. Hold it at the base of its foliage, so that you don’t end up with a handful of leaves when you pull.
How to Store Carrots
You’ve got quite a few options when it comes to storing your carrot harvest. Some of the most popular are:
Storing Carrots in the Ground
You don’t actually need to harvest all of your carrots in the autumn. Instead, once temperatures start to drop, cover your carrots with a thick layer of dry straw. This way, you’ll still be able to harvest them throughout the winter. However, make sure that you harvest them all before spring, otherwise they’ll start to grow and flower, which will turn the roots woody and bitter.
Storing Carrots in Damp Sand
If you have a cellar or another cool, dry, and frost-free area in your home, then your carrots can be stored in boxes of damp sand for up to six months. Twist the tops off first and then layer your carrots in the box, so that the sand is completely covering each one. If the carrots touch each other, they’ll end up rotting. Make sure that you don’t store any damaged carrots.
Storing Carrots in the Fridge
If you only have a few extra carrots, then twist off the tops and scrub them clean. Leave them to air dry before placing them into air-tight bags and keeping them in the fridge. This will keep them fresh for several days.
Storing Carrots in the Freezer
Carrots freeze well, and it’s definitely convenient to have a supply of frozen carrots to hand in the kitchen. Although you don’t technically need to blanch them first, this is still recommended in order to preserve nutrients, texture, and colour. Carrots will keep for several years in a freezer, although their flavour will start to decline after about a year.
How to Prepare & Cook Carrots
To start with, twist off the foliage from the top of each carrot. Don’t forget that those leaves are edible too!
Then, decide whether or not you want to peel your carrots. Unpeeled carrots offer the most nutrition, but some prefer the taste of peeled carrots. If you’re not peeling them, scrub the skin well to clean it, chop off the top, and then continue to prep based on how you plan on using them.
Carrots are incredibly versatile in the kitchen. Fresh carrots taste delicious raw, whether you slice them lengthways and snack on them with a dip, or grate them up to add to a salad.
Carrots can also be beautifully showcased in a wide range of cooked dishes, such as:
Boiled and buttered carrots
Common Carrot Problems
Although carrots usually grow without many problems, you may encounter a few pests and diseases along the way:
Carrot rust fly – the larva of these pests chew tunnels through carrot roots, turning them inedible. They’re more prevalent in the spring, so covering your carrots with a mesh and then removing that cover in the summer will prevent the flies from laying their eggs around your crop
Carrot wireworm – these pests also tunnel their way through carrot roots. They thrive in moist conditions, so make sure that your soil is well-draining. Planting mustards around your carrots will also help to deter them
Leaf blight – there’s not much that you can do once blight takes hold of your crop, other than planting blight-resistant varieties in the future
Popular Carrot Varieties to Grow
Once you start looking into the many carrot varieties out there, you’ll be amazed at how much choice there is! Some of the best varieties to start off with are:
Bolero – resistant to blight and several pests
Nantes – known for its amazing sweetness, as well as its crisp texture
Lunar White – produces roots that are long, white, and tender
Parisian Heirloom – these round and stumpy carrots are great for growing in containers or heavy soils
Purple Dragon – vividly purple on the outside, with a bright orange centre
If you sow your carrot seeds successionally from March onwards, you’ll be harvesting fresh carrots for most of the year, and you’ll have enough to store too. Carrots really are one of the easiest vegetables to grow – once you’ve had a taste of a freshly-picked carrot, you’ll no doubt be growing them in your garden each and every year.
Alina Jumabhoy has spent several years learning about, and experimenting with, different organic growing techniques at various gardens and farms around the country. Fuelled by her quest for self-sufficiency, she’s now putting that information to good use on her own rural farm.