Carrots grown in the home garden are so sweet and tender and there are many varieties suitable for any sized garden or even for growing in pots.
Many colours are now available too so be adventurous and try a delicious purple carrot, the ancestor of the modern orange carrot that we all know. You can read more about the history of carrots at this link.
Growth habits and planting needs
Carrots are an easy crop to grow but need deep, loose, friable soil to develop to maturity properly. The will also need a sunny spot and ample moisture throughout the growing period.
Dig the bed over well braking up any clods and removing any stones so that the end result is a loose soil that will make it easy for the roots to grow. A good sandy loam is preferable with just a little compost and no manures for this crop. If your soil is too heavy dig in some coarse river sand to make it lighter. Carrots are best grown in raised beds so that water drains away well.
Carrots will grow deformed or forked when the soil has obstacles in it or too much manure has been added. This also happens when there is too much nitrogen in the soil
Carrots need potassium but not much nitrogen so they should follow fruiting crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant in the crop rotation because there is little nitrogen left after these crops.
When planting smooth out the soil. Mix the seeds with some sand and sprinkle along the drilled row. Traditionally people have also mixed carrot and radish seeds together to achieve a good separation because radishes grow quickly and break the soil surface which helps the carrots to germinate.
Cover the seeds with a fine layer of coarse river sand or soil. Water over lightly so that the soil and seeds do not wash away, and cover with a very light mulch to keep the soil moist. Watering very lightly or having a micro drip system that ensures moisture to the plants early in the morning is essential.
The carrots will germinate in 10-21 days after they are sown.
As the seeds are so fine it will be necessary to thin the carrots out after they have grown a little.
Thin the carrots carefully when they are about 2.5-3.5 cm tall. For best growth given the roots structure, thin so that the plants are 10 cm apart. Planted closer than this will mean that there is too much competition between the plants for nutrients and water and they will necessarily be smaller. If you have limited space try to space the seedlings with about 5 cm all around.
This diagram from Root Development of Vegetable Crops by John E. Weaver and William E. Bruner shows the root development (grid in ft) under optimal conditions. It also shows the importance of keeping weeds away to prevent competition with surface roots.
Keep the carrots well watered and if you see the tops of the carrots exposed cover them to stop them greening off. The leaf growth will shade the plant and stop moisture evaporating from the plant
The carrots should be ready to harvest 10 – 12 weeks from sowing.
Carrots should be just over 1 to nearly 2 cm across but this will depend on the variety.
When harvesting loosen the soil around the carrot with a fork to remove it successfully and then cut the foliage off leaving about 1.5 cm of the stalks.
Carrots keep well in the crisper of the refrigerator for between 2-4 weeks.
Here is a recipe to make using your tender carrots: