Carrots!! They’re so fun and satisfying to grow. (Look how joyful I am in the photo above!)
When I ran a youth farm carrots were one of the crops the kids most loved to harvest. And, even as an adult, there’s something magical about digging in the soil and pulling out a golden yellow or earthy purple carrot.
In our house, they’re one of the vegetables we’re able to grow and eat all year round. So, I devote a lot of space to growing as many as possible throughout the spring, summer, fall, and winter.
Unfortunately, carrots are also one of the vegetables gardeners tend to struggle with because they can be a little tricky.
In this article, I’m going to share my best tips for how to grow carrots in your garden this season so we can get you on the path to successful carrot growing, and more importantly – eating!
This post contains affiliate links.
How to Grow Great Carrots
Prepare the Soil
If you’ve been following my gardening adventures for a while you probably know that I’ve never tilled my garden in 17 years of being a gardener. In my experience, it’s not necessary and it’s difficult to do when you have raised beds like I do in my garden.
You can read more about why you can skip tilling here: Stop Tilling Your Vegetable Garden.
But, carrots do like loose soil, and the seeds are teeny tiny, so if you have heavy soil you might want to spend a little time preparing the soil for planting carrots.
First, I use a digging fork to pop out any weeds in the planting area. I like digging forks because they help me get the weeds out by the roots so they won’t come back.
Next, I use a broadfork to loosen up and aerate the soil on a deeper level. After that, I just focus on breaking up the big clods on the surface of the soil so I can more easily plant the carrot seeds.
You can see exactly how I prepare my garden beds for planting seeds and plants in this video: How to Easily & Quickly Prep Your Garden Beds for Planting.
Carrots are cold hardy, which means you can start direct seeding them about four weeks before your average last frost. In my zone 5 garden I start planting carrots outside around mid-April.
And if you have a low tunnel or cold frame, you can plant them even earlier than that, up to 8-10 weeks before your last frost. I usually plant carrots in my cold frame around March 10 every year.
Keep the Seeds Watered
My biggest tip for planting carrots is to make sure the newly planted seeds stay consistently moist until they germinate, which can take up to three weeks. Yikes!
This means you absolutely need to go out and water your seeds every single day if you don’t get any rain. If you’ve planted them in the summer and it’s hot and dry, you may need to water them twice a day.
Carrots can be stubborn germinators, but if you give them the right conditions they will germinate.
One thing I learned from working on a farm is to try to time my carrot planting for just before or just after a rainstorm when the soil is nice and moist.
I’ve been known to rush out to my garden right before an impending storm to quickly get some plants or seeds into the ground to take advantage of the natural watering that’s about to arrive!
Extra Credit: Cover with Row Cover
In spring, I usually cover all newly seeded beds with row cover. Row cover is a thin white fabric that lets light, water, and air through. It traps in a little extra heat and moisture as well, which is exactly what seeds waiting to germinate need.
I started using row cover after working on a vegetable farm and seeing it in action. One day in late spring we all gathered around a row of kale that had been growing under row cover since it was planted. The farmer wanted to check on the condition of the plants underneath.
As we were standing there I noticed that a few of the kale plants at the end of the row didn’t make it under the row cover and were left exposed to the elements.
The difference between the kale underneath the row cover, bigger with no insect damage, and the kale outside of the row cover, smaller with holes and various damage from insects and animals, was dramatic! Then and there I decided I would start using row cover in my garden.
Again and again, I’ve seen how much better plants grow under row cover in spring in my cold climate. So, if you live in an area where spring can be cold and slow, consider adding row cover to your garden toolkit.
Thinning carrot seedlings means going out to a row of carrots and plucking out baby seedlings that are too crowded in the row. You do this to give space for the seedlings you leave to grow to full size.
A lot of gardeners find it painful to rip small plants from the garden soil. Believe me, I understand. But, it’s a necessity if you want your carrots to be healthy and grow to full size.
Carrots that are overcrowded will be competing for space with the others around them and won’t grow as big.
Most carrot seed packets direct you to sow 45 seeds per foot, but then thin them to 1” between each plant once they germinate. That means if they all germinate you’ll have to go back and pluck out about 30 of those baby carrots in each foot of garden bed. Aack!
I tend to plant my seeds a bit farther apart so I don’t have to thin as dramatically. You can eat the thinnings or just throw them into the aisle or compost bin.
Water & Mulch
Once your carrots have germinated and are growing nicely, make sure you give them about 1 inch of water per week. I like to use a rain gauge in my garden so I have a visual reminder of how much rain I’ve gotten in my garden that week and to help me evaluate whether I need to hand water my vegetables.
I recommend mulching between the rows of carrots to trap in moisture and keep down the weeds. I wait a few weeks until my carrots are up and growing before going back to mulch around them.
You can read more about How to Water Your Garden the Right Way and Why Mulch is the Ultimate Garden Tool.
Carrots are the perfect vegetable for succession planting. Succession planting is planting a vegetable several times throughout the season for a more continued supply. So, don’t just plant carrots once in spring and then put your seed packet away.
You can plants a row or more every 2-3 weeks until about 8-10 weeks before your average first frost. This will give you several harvests of carrots throughout the season instead of just one.
In my zone 5 garden, my first planting of carrots goes into my cold frame around March 10 and I continue to seed a new row or two of carrots whenever and wherever I have room every few weeks until the end of July.
How to Harvest Carrots
Carrots take between 55-80 days to get to mature size depending on the variety you’re growing. In reality, you can harvest a carrot at whatever size you want. If you like really tiny and skinny carrots like you might get at a gourmet restaurant then feel free to dig them up at that size.
To see if the carrots are ready to harvest, I go out to the garden bed and use my finger to dig around where the carrot top meets the soil to see how big the carrot root has grown.
If it looks like it’s about time to start harvesting, I might pull one or two to check out their size.
It’s very easy to break carrots when harvesting them. I recommend using a digging fork to gently loosen the soil around the rows until you can then pull the carrots from the ground.
If you’d like, you can gradually harvest your carrots as you’re ready to eat them. They will continue to grow if left in the garden, so just be careful you don’t leave them in there too long or you’ll get monster roots!
Once they’re out of the garden bed you can cut off the tops and then wash the carrots. I don’t’ like to wash them in my kitchen sink because they’re usually caked in soil.
Instead, I put them in a shallow crate outside by the hose and spray off as much of the soil as possible before bringing them into my kitchen for a more thorough washing.
Washed carrots can be stored in the fridge in a plastic bag…if you don’t eat them all first!
Planting Fall Carrots
Even if you don’t have the space to keep planting successions of carrots all season, I highly recommend you try to fit in a planting of fall carrots.
You can plant carrot seeds until about 8-10 weeks before your first frost. In my garden, my fall planting of carrots usually happens mid- to late July. I grow a lot of onions and garlic, so after harvesting them in July I fill some of that space up with carrots.
I love growing fall carrots because they can hang out in the garden for a long time – even into my Wisconsin winter. The cold weather and frosts sweeten them, so they taste delicious.
And they don’t grow as quickly in the fall since the days are getting shorter then, so you can leave them in the garden for a long time and not worry that they’ll get huge.
In fact, in most years I leave my carrots in the garden beds until right before the ground freezes. I’m usually out in my garden in early December digging up the last of the carrots through a light covering of snow.
The one difficulty of planting carrots in the summer if you live in a hot and/or dry climate is that they need a little extra attention in order to germinate. You’ll need to really keep them moist and water a lot, probably twice a day.
Keep an eye on the weather and if a summer rainstorm is in the forecast, try to seed them right before it rains.
I’ve also had luck completely shading a newly planted raised bed of carrots by laying boards over the whole bed to keep it cooler and more moist. See photo above.
Once the seeds germinate I remove the boards and return them to my scrap woodpile.
How to Store
If you do end up with a big harvest of fall carrots, you can easily store them in the fridge all winter long! I purposely grow many more carrots than we can eat. When I harvest them in December I load them into plastic bags and store them in the fridge.
You should remove the tops first before storing them. And if the carrots are really wet, you can spread them out on some newspapers overnight to dry a bit. Then load them into plastic bags, poke a few holes in the bags to release the condensation, and place them in the back of your fridge.
I don’t like to wash my carrots before putting them into storage because it removes the waxy protection on the outside of the skin.
But, if you don’t like the idea of storing soiled carrots, you can certainly clean them up before putting them in your fridge.
You can grab a handful of carrots every time you need some for snacking and cooking. We eat our carrots all winter long. We’re often digging around the back of the fridge to pull out the last few in March or April.
Right around the time I’m starting to plant the current year’s carrots!
Favorite Carrot Varieties to Grow
Do not spend all your carrot growing effort just planting boring old orange carrots! One of the benefits of growing your own food is the ability to experiment with interesting and unique varieties.
Carrots are no exception. They come in many amazing colors like yellow, white, purple, and red.
Here are some of my favorites I’ve planted over the years:
Purple & Red Carrots
Purple carrots come in so many different shades! And they often have another color mixed in like white, orange or yellow. These carrots are always so gorgeous that I set them up for their own photoshoots.
They’re almost too pretty to eat…almost!
Purple Haze carrots have an orange center and some orange coloring on the outside. Breathtaking!
Purple Sun are a little darker in color, but still have some yellow and orange mixed in as you can see in the above photo.
I’ve tried a few other purple varieties over the years and can recommend the following:
Yellow is always a great complement to your orange carrots! I often grow Yellowstone.
Other varieties include Gold Nugget and Yellowbunch.
There aren’t a lot of white carrot varieties, but White Satin didn’t disappoint the year I grew it.
There are plenty of orange carrots to choose from. My favorite to grow for fall and winter storage is Bolero.
I’ve also grown:
If you can’t make up your mind which colors you want to grow, why not try a mix? Several seed companies have pre-mixed various varieties together for you!
Starburst Carrot Blend
Where to Buy Carrot Seeds
If you’re reading this in the spring of 2020 you likely know that many seed companies have sold out of many varieties due to the heightened interest in growing food.
I’m sad to say that some of the varieties I’ve linked to in this article are among those sold out. But, take heart, it won’t always be this way! I expect things will be back to normal either later this season or next winter.
I’ve been buying the majority of my seeds from these quality companies for many years (not sponsored!). You can find all of their carrot varieties at the links below.
High Mowing Seeds
Johnny’s Selected Seeds
You can also find seeds for your vegetable garden on Esty. See some of my lists of seeds here.
I like to use pelleted carrot seeds when they’re available because I find them easier to work with and they help me get better spacing. They look like round white balls and are covered in clay to make them easier to handle.
The seed listing will say whether it’s a pelleted seed.
Additional Resources for Growing Your Garden
You can find more of my favorite garden supplies, tools, books, and more in my Amazon storefront.
I’ve also included the below video which was filmed in my garden. I share many of the same tips as this article about how to grow carrots successfully.
The video is part of my how-to series, Digging Into Spring, which focuses on simple, effective and smart actions you can take in your garden that will deliver big results all season long. You can watch the preview videos here: Digging into Spring.
There’s nothing quite like harvesting a fresh carrot from your garden, running it under the hose to clean it off, and then eating it right then and there!
This season, I encourage you to take the time to learn how to grow carrots and then devote some space in your garden to experimenting with them. You won’t regret it!
Happy carrot growing!
The post Grow great carrots this year with these helpful tips appeared first on Creative Vegetable Gardener.
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