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Carrot Growing 101 PLUS a Tip from Grandpa

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Considering growing carrots in your garden this year? They aren’t too tricky to grow and they yield a delicious result. 

When you have a successful harvest, be sure to freeze carrots for use in baking during the off-season.

growing carrots sticking out of soil

Introduction to growing carrots

Carrots are root vegetables that live beneath the earth’s surface, leaving their green, leafy tops exposed to the sun as they develop. The most common varieties are bright orange, but carrots come in a variety of colors, from pale yellow to deep purple. Known for their high beta-carotene content, carrots are packed full of lots of vitamins and minerals necessary for a healthy diet. 

Carrot plants have very fine, feathery foliage. They’re quite beautiful in a garden.

Carrot varieties to grow

When choosing which kind of carrots you’d like to grow, there are numerous varieties to choose from. These are a few of the more common.

  • NantesNantes carrots are named for the French city where these carrots thrive, and they’ve grown in popularity over the years for home gardeners due to their short grow cycle and tasty flavor.
  • DanversDanvers carrots reach up to eight inches in length and are what you likely think of when you visualize a perfect carrot – thick at the top with a tapered bottom and a bright reddish-orange exterior.
  • MiniMini carrots are perfect for container gardens, as their short roots only reach a few inches in length. Often served whole with the tops attached, they’re a great addition to any upscale dinner or home-cooked meal.
  • ChantenayThese carrots are perfect for rockier soils that other varieties struggle in. They grow up to six or seven inches in length and are quite thick in diameter compared to other carrots, so they’re suitable for standard gardens or large containers. Don’t let them grow too long or they’ll lose their flavor.
  • ImperatorImperator carrots are likely the carrots you’ve purchased at your local grocer. They’re thick and long, and many find them to taste sweeter than other carrots.
orange, yellow, and purple carrots in a white colander on a teal board

Requirements for Growing Carrots

Carrots grow best in cool weather, so plant them early in the season, before the heat of the summer really sets in. Most varieties of carrots can survive a frost or two. Check a local calendar to find the optimal planting time in your area. In terms of light requirements, carrots thrive in sunny environments. Full sunlight is ideal, but they’ll do just fine under partial sun as well. [More vegetables that grow well in shade here.]

feathery green foliage of a plant against dark soil

Soil

Ensure your carrots are planted in loose, loamy soil. Give your growing carrots room to breathe, and ensure the soil is free of rocks and other debris that may cause your carrots to morph into a strange shape! While adding manure provides much-needed nutrition for some vegetables, the excess nitrogen added to the soil can cause carrots to fork and split at the end. When preparing and maintaining your soil, you should also strive to achieve a neutral pH. Carrots are fairly hearty where the soil is concerned, but you’ll want to keep an eye on the acidity of your soil nonetheless.

You can plant your carrots in the ground, in a raised bed, or in containers. No matter where you plan to grow carrots, the technique is largely the same. Scatter your seeds, and cover them with a very thin layer of soil. Carrot seeds are tiny, so they’re a pain to plant one by one. Ideally, your carrots will have an inch or two of room on either side to grow – you’ll likely need to thin them out later if your seeds really take hold.

Give growing carrots plenty of water and keep your soil moist until you see your seedlings emerge.

carrots up close, carrots growing in soil

 

Grandpa’s secret for sprouting carrot seeds

The most difficult part of growing carrots is getting them started. One thing that’s crucial when growing carrots is that they have constant moisture for sprouting.

This little trick from my grandpa solves that problem!

Seed your row of carrots and water them in well. Place a 1″ x 4″ board over the row. That’s right, right on the ground on TOP of the row of newly planted seeds. Check on the row daily as you water and as soon as your seeds sprout, place bricks under each end of the board so that it’s not directly atop the new sprouts, but still shading them. Once the seedlings are tall enough to touch the board, you can take it away.

Keeping the carrot seeds moist and shaded as they’re getting situated in the garden is the ticket.

My grandpa swore by this method, and he was the king of growing carrots!

Growing carrots in containers

To grow carrots in containers, pick up some potting soil and a suitable container to plant them in. Most carrots only grow to around five inches in length, but pay attention to the variety and ensure you’ve left enough room for the root to fully develop. Add soil to your container until only a few inches are remaining.

Sprinkle your seeds across the top and add a light layer of soil on top to cover them up. Keep your soil moist by watering frequently as your plants begin to take hold. (Grandpa’s two-by-four trick won’t work in small containers. Instead, try this.Once your carrots have begun to grow, keep them well-watered throughout the growing season.

Two imperfect carrots on a wooden background

Combating pests and other problems

Carrots are surprisingly resistant to many common pests, diseases and blights, making them a great choice if your garden is prone to problems or you’re fairly new to growing your own crops. However, they are susceptible to several tricky pests and problems you’ll need to stay on guard for.

Nematodes

Root knot nematodes are a serious pathogen that impacts carrots in many gardens. While carrots suffering from root knot nematodes are still edible, they aren’t too pretty to look at. The infection manifests as split, hairy, misshapen roots, so it’s easy to spot. However, you won’t be able to see the actual nematodes themselves – they’re far too small. You’ll just be able to admire the work they’ve left behind.

Some varieties of plants are developed to resist this particular type of nematode. Unfortunately, carrots aren’t one of them. Planting marigolds nearby may help, but the best way to prevent root knot nematodes is to take preventative steps before you begin growing carrots.

Rotate your crops – growing carrots in the same place twice is asking for trouble. Instead, plant something else in that area – ideally, something nematodes don’t really enjoy.

Cavity spot

In addition to root knot nematodes, carrots can fall victim to cavity spot, which is brought on by a fungus that infects the roots of the plant. This can be a tricky one to prevent or address – since the damage is done beneath the surface, you often won’t know your carrots are damaged by cavity spot until you’ve pulled them from the ground as you harvest. Carrots harmed by cavity spots aren’t edible, so it’s important to do everything you can to prevent its onset. The best way to prevent cavity spot is to rotate your crops when planting.

Wireworms

Carrots are also vulnerable to wireworms, which are a type of beetle larvae. They grow up to 1 ½ inches long and are darker in color than most wormy pests. They thrive underground, irreparably damaging the roots and tubers hiding beneath the surface of your garden.

If you find that wireworms are a problem in your garden, you may want to thoroughly till your soil before planting and look for any of these pests before you begin. This is the best way to prevent wireworms. The little bugs don’t do well above ground, as they’re vulnerable to predators, like birds, as well as the weather.

Unfortunately, once wireworms have taken hold, there isn’t much you can do to combat an active infestation while preserving your crops.

garden fresh veggies: bittermelon, peppers, and other vegetables in various containers

When to harvest carrots

Young carrots — baby carrots — can be harvested a couple of months after sowing seeds. Let them grow a few more weeks for mature carrots. Since the carrot is growing below ground, it can be challenging to know just when to harvest carrots. Especially if you’re poor at tracking this sort of thing, as I am. But here’s a trick:

Feel around the base of the carrot, where the greens come out of the ground. If a carrot is mature, you should be able to feel its “shoulders.” If the top of the carrot is half to three-quarters of an inch or so, it’s ready to pull.

vegetable garden

Harvesting carrots

Carrots get soft after a few weeks in storage. For fresh eating, don’t pull more than you plan to eat in a fairly short period of time. Unlike many vegetables, you can leave carrots in your garden for weeks after they’re ready to harvest with no real negative impact. Keep your garden free of weeds and ensure your soil isn’t too moist (or too dry) and you’ll be perfectly safe to wait until the weather starts to cool before you pull your plants from the ground.

Different varieties of carrots take different lengths of time to mature – anywhere from 50 to 75+ days. Baby carrots, of course, are pulled when they’re quite small, but standard carrots often measure a half inch in diameter when they’re ready to be eaten.

Make sure the soil is loose by using a fork or other tool to loosen any compact dirt. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself with a handful of leaves and stem – and a carrot stuck in the ground. 

Using garden fresh carrots

Carrots offer lots of nutritional value and can be used in the kitchen in a wide variety of recipes. From salads to carrot cakes, you’ll find plenty of ways to enjoy your harvest. Carrots can be roasted or steamed, boiled or baked, shredded over salads or eaten whole as a snack. You can incorporate carrots into healthy juices, pickle them for a fun side dish, or freeze them to use later.

For long-term storage, cut the leafy green tops off of your carrots before placing them in the vegetable crisper in your refrigerator. If you have grown carrots than you can handle, you can always freeze some for later or pickle them for a tasty snack later on.

3 carrots with dirt on them

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Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

54 comments… add one
  • Patricia May 7, 2011, 7:02 am

    What a great idea. My youngest son’s “crop of choice” in our garden since he was old enough to help has been carrots. We’ve been growing Danvers, but for years we’ve had inconsistent germination and growth. We HAVE to try this next year…or maybe this fall.

    • Kris Bordessa Jul 22, 2018, 3:54 pm

      Whoops — just now seeing this! I hope this helps your germination rate. Grandpa would be thrilled. 🙂

      • Kris Bordessa Jul 22, 2018, 3:55 pm

        And yow — this is not even from May of THIS year! I hope you’ve had YEARS of good carrot growth since then. LOL.

  • Kim Lowe May 7, 2011, 10:17 am

    This is so interesting!! Thank you.

  • Alana May 7, 2011, 3:06 pm

    I don’t have any “generations old” wisdom….because my parents did not garden-they spent their lives living in apartments in NYC. I wanted you to know that I am enjoying your blog (I’m a fellow blogathoner) and am adding your blog to my blog roll. I’m looking forward to learning from you!

  • Alexandra May 8, 2011, 11:37 am

    Thanks for this tip! I have only had success with carrots when I used seed tape. I’m learning as I go along and realize gardening will become more important as the supply of organic vegetable dwindles. Growing anything on Cape Cod is a challenge because of the sandy soil. Flowers I have mastered. The veggies still have me on a learning curve. Wish I had learned these things in school! Oh, forgot potatoes. They are easy.

    • James Jan 13, 2016, 10:22 am

      Alexandra, have you investigated charcoal at all? AKA biochar. I’ve been making my own for the last couple months and am currently trying to make enough for a good sized comparison garden this coming season. Anyways, I thought you may find that avenue of interest fruitful. Peace.

  • killing moles May 11, 2011, 10:41 am

    I completely agree. Thanks for sharing this information with your readers.

  • Connie Jul 3, 2013, 5:19 pm

    I found that wood ashes applied to the carrot area of my garden did increase the size of the carrots (both fat and long) but I no longer have access to wood ash and wonder if you know something else that has the same mineral that does this

    • Kris Bordessa Jul 3, 2013, 6:22 pm

      Try kelp!

  • Connie Jul 5, 2013, 8:48 am

    OK, thanks Kris

  • Jackie Patti Jan 1, 2014, 8:56 am

    I never managed to get them to sprout until this year… I did the method of making a gel.  Basically, you soak your seeds in a gel, which is just corn starch and water.  Then you plant the seeds, gel and all.  The gel is thick, sort of like runny jello, so keeps this bunch of moisture surrounding the seeds.  It works very well!

    • Kris Bordessa Jan 1, 2014, 8:57 am

      I’ve never heard of that method!

  • Katherine Mar 12, 2014, 10:31 am

    I just learned a cool carrot trick from my neighbor. I live in the Palouse (Northwest US / Zone 6) and was surprised to learn that besides doing a traditional spring planting of carrots they also plant them in late summer and leave the carrots in all winter under a nice layer of raked leaves and mulch. They harvest around mid March (when we in Zone 6 are JUST starting to commence to begin to think about starting seedlings – can’t plant outside til after Mother’s Day). They get HUGE and very sweet carrots. Some have to be topped where they freeze solid and soften … but 80% of all the carrots were edible. Anyone else do this? I just ate some truly delicious carrots I watched them dig up yesterday or I wouldn’t have believed it myself. Anyone else do this?

    • Debra Stephens Apr 5, 2015, 5:09 pm

      Yes, this works very well here in Idaho. My mom taught me this trick also, to plant your carrot seeds just before the snow and forget about them till early spring. Usually you dig large, sweat carrots when nothing else is growing.

    • m. perry May 4, 2016, 7:05 am

      I have known several gardeners in MO and AR who did this, and it works like a champ.

  • Tracy Chamberlin Apr 2, 2014, 2:17 am

    I use a more modern way. Instead of using a board I place hoops with frost fabric over the bed. I water diligently but lightly everyday. When the seeds are about an inch or two high I remove the fabric and continue watering. Works like a charm!

  • April Apr 28, 2014, 5:44 pm

    My most recent post was about my winter carrots. I just dug some up on Friday when I was putting in my tomatoes (with walls o water). Some of ours got lost bc my kids tried to pull some up when the ground was frozen and only succeeded in ripping the tops off, so these were like finding lost treasures. The tops were soft from freezing and losing their tops, but the rest was still great!

  • [email protected] Talk May 22, 2014, 4:46 pm

    I thought carrots need light to germinate? I tend to grow mine inside and replant since I could never get them to germinate outside.

  • Dean Sieck Jan 28, 2015, 11:03 am

    Do you mean one inch by four foot board? if not, id the board four inches wide and an inch thick? Why is the thickness important?

    • Kris Bordessa Feb 3, 2015, 2:24 pm

      One inch by four inch (length as you need it). Though you *could use a different sized board if you have one lying around. The 4″ width is just enough to cover a row, and the 1″ thickness makes it easier to move around than a thicker board.

  • DB Jan 30, 2015, 12:55 pm

    I had only a ceramic floor tile to cover my carrot tape. The warmth of the tile combined with the moisture it preserved then the shade it provided resulted in a bumper crop of carrots. I have never been able to grow carrots before. Luvin it! Thank you for the technique. -DB

  • Erica / Northwest Edible Life Feb 3, 2015, 2:08 pm

    That’s similar to how I get those pesky carrots to germinate, too! I use cardboard but I like the “propped up board” idea. Did grandpa have an old timer tricks for keeping away carrot rust fly? Those buggers are the bane of my carrot crop! 😉

    • Kris Bordessa Feb 3, 2015, 2:21 pm

      I wish I could pick his brain about SO many things. He was a fantastic potato farmer, too.

    • Tabitha Jun 15, 2015, 2:05 am

      Plant carrots with tomatoes, not only do they shade the carrots but they help with the bug problem.

  • Sarah from Coffee to Compost Feb 3, 2015, 5:31 pm

    I have heard of putting a board over the seeds, but not of propping up the board a bit, which I think makes a lot of sense! I have tried and tried to grow carrots in Florida, and am determined to succeed. I’ll have to try this trick next fall. Thank you for sharing this tip from a wise gardener.

  • Eliza Apr 6, 2015, 3:42 am

    I once heard that sifting the pebbles out of the soil where carrots will be planted is helpful also. It made for fewer twisted and stubby carrots.

  • Jan Apr 24, 2015, 1:22 pm

    I could never get carrots to germinate but then read about someone accidentally scattering wildflower seeds and found out once they grew they were carrot seeds. She could never grown them in rows so scattered them and got great success. I have found the same. Never could get them to grow but since scattering the seed rather than sowing in lines I have found success. Suggest carrot seeds are contrary little beggars. lol

  • Joe Mar 10, 2016, 3:24 pm

    Cool idea.
    What I’ve been doing in some pretty heavy soil is covering the seed with something light, such as coffee grounds or sifted compost. Works pretty well but I’ll try this idea too.

  • Sheri Mar 12, 2016, 12:42 pm

    Great ideas on this post! Thank you so much! Here’s some info to share also:

    (1) Plant carrot seed with radish seeds at the same time in an herb shaker to scatter the seeds. The radishes finish off much earlier than the carrots and help with the spacing of the carrots as you pull out the radishes. Have a bit of good garden soil to refill the vacant radish areas.
    (2) Soil for growing carrots must be deep, loose and rock free. I learned that a small pebble will cause my carrots to grow odd shapes, funny sometimes but odd and hard to peel.

  • Rahul Apr 4, 2016, 10:12 pm

    I’m also planting carrot seeds and will definitely follow your tips. Lets see how they grow.

  • Susan May 8, 2016, 12:31 pm

    I think this will also solve the problem I had – Doves ate every seed as if I had planted them specifically to be bird food.

  • Andy May 10, 2016, 3:50 am

    This method is a must for parsnips which take 21 days to sprout.

    • Kris Bordessa May 11, 2016, 8:07 pm

      I’ve been trying to sprout parsnips with no luck — totally going to implement this! Thanks.

  • Kyla Matton Osborne (Ruby3881) May 14, 2016, 8:06 pm

    I’ve never heard of doing this. What a cool tip!

  • Jean B Jun 9, 2016, 1:34 pm

    First of all, I hate planting carrots, or should I say thinning them.
    I saw an interesting tip using a piece of pegboard. Glue about a 3/4inch peg in every other hole. Put the pegboard with pegs down in the soil. Lift carefully so you don’t destroy the”grid”. I purchased the Pelletized carrot seeds and dropped one in per hole. Everything is lined up straight(for the first time in my growing career!!!). Now just waiting to see if it worked. Did the same for beets, onions, etc. planted in half the time and it actually seemed to give me more space to plant. Hope the outcome is as good as I feel about the planting.

    • Kris Bordessa Jun 13, 2016, 6:42 am

      Wow, interesting idea! Thanks for sharing. I hope your thinning chores are easier this year.

  • Loucile Hall Jun 19, 2016, 5:33 pm

    My husband used to grow beets this way. I’m going to try carrots covered with sheer curtains.

  • Steve Jones Aug 20, 2016, 6:02 am

    Hi Ihave never heard of this before, my tip is to cover with a fine mesh to prevent attacks by carrot fly also don’t over water once the seeds have germinated only water in a drought. As you want the root to grow and stretch way down into the soil in search of water.

    • Fi Baker Jan 27, 2017, 7:32 am

      Thats a good comment Steve about the over watering,i would think that would go for most root veg

  • Aine Aug 22, 2016, 11:24 pm

    My father used to soak his sweetcorn seeds in paraffin oil before sowing them so that nothing would eat them.

  • Brian McMillen Jan 27, 2017, 6:52 am

    Interesting. Ive never heard of this before. Honestly Ive been fortunate with growing carrots (in raised beds). Ive grown about 12 different varieties but my family tends to enjoy the sugarsnax varieties the best.

  • Fi Baker Jan 27, 2017, 7:29 am

    Hi Folks,i am from New Zealand,also try an old sheet,plant your seeds in drills,using a bit of river sand mixed in with your top soil,your trying to make your soil deep and fine for carrot seeds,then gently wet the soil.Place the sheet over the planted area held down with rocks etc.You can now water onto the top of the sheet checking for germination and soil moisture level.

  • Barbara Mar 24, 2017, 7:47 am

    I use a soaker hose 75 feet long and run it back and forth on a 25 ft row planted in the fall. The row is raised and compost worked in. A shallow ditch catches any runoff. This year I had three rows of different kinds of carrots on one 25 ft stretch and we have been eating them for months now.

  • Sarah Apr 19, 2017, 2:43 pm

    I thought they needed light to germinate…. Might have to do both methods and compare and contrast results…..

    • Kris Bordessa Apr 27, 2017, 5:36 pm

      That would be interesting to see!

  • Shirley May 3, 2017, 12:08 pm

    I will definitely try this. Will plant next week

  • Bonnie G May 17, 2017, 6:15 am

    I started my carrots in the house between 2 damp paper towels in a 2 gallon zip lock bag. Then once the sprouted I transplanted in soil I will be moving them to the garden this weekend. They are doing great so far.

  • Keri Andersen Sep 24, 2017, 3:23 pm

    For the first time in more than 20 years of gardening, I have had an abundant crop of carrots. Thank you for your wisdom and experience!

  • Linda Lane May 8, 2019, 3:36 pm

    Does grandpas trick work for beets also?

    • Kris Bordessa May 8, 2019, 8:11 pm

      I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t.

  • T-Flor Oct 6, 2019, 11:10 pm

    I grew carrots, Cosmic Purples, starting in late April, early May this year, in between two rows of garlic that I planted in the fall (October). Nothing bothered it. No bugs. No bunnies. Nothing. Best tasting carrots ever.

  • Linda H Mar 18, 2020, 2:52 pm

    Thank you for this great idea! Will be doing this this spring. Any suggestions for slugs eating them? I lost 1/2 of my carrots last year due to slugs 🙁

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