5 Secrets for Growing Better Carrots

5 Secrets for Growing Better Carrots

I am bound and determined to grow at least 75% of my family’s annual carrot supply.  Did it happen this year?  Nope.  But I learned five secrets for growing better carrots, and I’m pretty sure next year will be the Year of the Carrot here on the homestead.

We’ve been growing carrots for years, with decent success.  But now we’re serious.  We want to grow LOTS of carrots.  Do you know how many carrots a family of five eats, a family who eats most of their meals at home, made from real ingredients?

The answer is A LOT.

 

No matter how many carrots I grow, we never seem to have enough.  Every time I buy (whole, organic) carrots at the store, I feel a little bit angry.  Grrr.  But I’m choosing to channel my inner carrot angst into determined strategies.

No more messing around.  It’s time to grow carrots, and lots of them.  Here’s how I plan to do it.

5 Secrets for Growing Better Carrots | Yankee Homestead
  • Save

More about seed starting:

5 Secrets for Growing Better Carrots

Here’s a quick overview for those {ahem} who appreciate the big picture before filling in the details.

  1. Soil
  2. Water
  3. Spacing
  4. Temperature
  5. Mulch

Bonus:

  • Pelleted seeds
  • Seed tool
  • Caterpillars

1. Soil

I almost didn’t include this because I’m kind of assuming you already know about good garden soil.  But just in case you’re totally new to gardening, you need to know that the soil makes all the difference.  Good soil is definitely one of the secrets for growing better carrots.

If you try to plant carrots in heavy clay soil, or in nitrogen-deficient soil (like our first and second year Hugelkultur beds), it will not go well.  Carrots, like most vegetables, need loose, healthy soil.

Raised garden boxes are ideal for growing small to modest amounts of carrots.  For bigger harvests, you’ll likely plant carrots in the ground.  Whether you plant in raised beds or directly in the ground, the key is to build up the soil.

On our homestead we build soil by adding compost, composted manure, or rabbit manure.  We sow fall cover crops, and we put the chickens to work in our gardens over the winter and in early spring.

5 Secrets for Growing Better Carrots | Yankee Homestead
  • Save

2. Water

Most of the battle in growing carrots is getting your seeds to germinate.  If you can do that, the rest is easy!  And one of the most important ways to help your carrot seeds germinate is to keep them wet.

Where I live in northern Virginia, carrot seeds are pretty easy to germinate in the spring when the weather is naturally wet and temperatures are moderate.  It was when I added succession plantings (in the summer) that I began to run into challenges.

One of my biggest mistakes was underestimating how wet I needed to keep my carrot seeds until they germinated.  Water is a really important secret for growing better carrots.

Please allow me to emphasize: carrot seeds need So Much Water!  This is especially true when planting in summer for a fall harvest.  Be sure to water your carrot seeds daily and even twice per day if the temperatures are warm.  Keep this up until seedlings emerge, which can take about 10 days or even up to two weeks.

5 Secrets for Growing Better Carrots | Yankee Homestead
  • Save

3. Spacing

Another challenge in growing carrots is giving them enough room to grow.  This year I learned that I’ve been planting my carrots way too close.

If you’re like me, perhaps you view spacing instructions on most seed packets as a suggestion.  I like to maximize garden space, which means I have a tendency to overcrowd my plants.

Sometimes this works and sometimes it backfires.  With carrots, I’ve learned the hard way that spacing matters.

This year, I actually learned secrets #2 and #3 in tandem.  Because I did not keep my summer-planted carrot seeds wet enough, my germination rate was probably around 50-70%.  This seemed like a major bummer until I realized that the lower-than-hoped-for germination rate actually led to properly spaced carrots.

These fall carrots are some of the best carrots I’ve ever grown, and I’m chalking it up to the fact that they’ve had plenty of room to spread out.

5 Secrets for Growing Better Carrots | Yankee Homestead
  • Save

4. Temperature

Carrots prefer a soil temperature of about 70-80° F, which is normal for spring but can pose a challenge for summer succession plantings.

Tip: a planting calculator will help to determine the best times to plant in your area.

This year I bought a soil thermometer to take the guess work out of judging proper planting conditions in my raised beds.  I watched the weather, and planted my carrots seeds one week in July when the temperatures dropped a bit.  I even used a few bags of ice leftover from chicken processing to cool the soil over my carrot seeds.

Again, my germination rate was not as high as I’d hoped, although my perceived failure did prove to be an advantage for spacing.  Next year I plan to space my seeds more generously and aim for a higher germination rate by keeping the soil wet and cool.

How will I do this?  By placing long boards over my rows of summer-planted carrots seeds.

My carrot research taught me that most seeds (including carrots) do not require light in order to germinate.  Therefore, placing a board over the carrot seeds should provide shade, which will keep the soil temperature down and will also help to prevent evaporation and hold in more moisture.

The key is to check under the boards regularly, and to remove them as soon as baby green seedlings begin to emerge.

5 Secrets for Growing Better Carrots | Yankee Homestead
  • Save

5. Mulch 

Have you heard of the Back to Eden gardening method?  Basically, it involves using large amounts of wood chip mulch in your vegetable gardens to suppress weeds, slow water evaporation, and build the soil.

We’re not official Back-to-Eden-ers around here, but we’ve been slowly moving in that direction.  I prefer grass clippings and straw for mulching my raised garden boxes, but we do use lots of wood chip mulch in our large in-ground garden.

What I learned this year is that wood chip mulch and carrots do not mix.  My desire to grow lots of carrots (and green beans) led me to plant several long rows of carrots and green beans after we pulled out the onions in what we call our “far garden”.  You can see the onions growing on the right side of the far garden in the picture above.

So I pulled back several long strips of wood chip mulch, and sowed my seeds.  The results: the green beans did awesome but the carrots were a dismal failure.

Despite my best efforts, that wood chip mulch just kept washing back down into the planting gullies.  Green bean seeds and seedlings are pretty stout, and they were able to push through and around the mulch.

Carrot seeds and seedlings are so tiny that they just couldn’t compete with large wood chips.  I was so disappointed, but I learned my lesson.  Next year I will be sure to keep wood chips far away from my carrot seeds.  I may try adding a fine layer of grass clippings to provide a little bit of soil protection but without hindering the seedlings from pushing through the mulch.

Bonus Tips:

6. Pelleted seeds

Carrot seeds are so dark and so tiny that planting can be a challenge.  Choosing pelleted seeds can make the process much less daunting.  Pelleted seeds are simply coated in a white substance that makes the seeds bigger and easier to see.  While not absolutely necessary, you might consider pelleted seeds if you are brand new to growing carrots or have struggled to grow them in the past.

7. Seed tool

Did I mention how dark and tiny carrot seeds are, and how tricky it can be to see the seeds and achieve proper spacing?  I recently started using this tool, which has really helped.  Especially when combined with pelleted seeds, this little tool helps me keep track of my tiny carrot seeds and get them in the ground with proper spacing.

8. Caterpillars

If you find striped caterpillars eating your leafy green carrot tops, do not panic.  I’m sad to say that the first few times I discovered caterpillars in my carrots, I quickly smushed them or fed them to the chickens.

After continuing to notice them every year, I eventually identified them as swallowtail caterpillars.  Harmless and even beneficial, swallowtail caterpillars will eat some of your carrot tops but the carrots will not be harmed and the greens will grow back.  Furthermore, the caterpillars will eventually turn into beautiful pollinators.  So don’t smush them!

Do you grow carrots?  What challenges have you faced? 

 

5 Secrets for Growing Better Carrots
  • Save
3books

Sign up NOW for my best tips delivered weekly to your inbox!

You’ll also get instant access to my library of free ebooks and resources.

Posted in ,

You might also like...

Kathleen Henderson

Kathleen Henderson

Let's get real! I’m Kathleen Henderson, your Natural Living Mentor. I’m on a mission to help families see the joy in real food, while finding natural remedies and creating a nontoxic home. Learn more about my story >>

3 Comments

  1. Avatar jenniferhofmann on 06/30/2020 at 4:26 am

    I think we watched the same YouTube video on getting carrot seeds to germinate. Jess from Roots and Refuge Farm shared the board tip, I tried it, and am happy to say it worked like a charm. How are they thinking out this year so far?

  2. Avatar Dorothy Martin on 07/26/2020 at 9:16 pm

    Kathleen, I found your webpage searching for something about gardening. I’m getting old and forgot what I was going for. LOL Anyway, I spent the last hour reading on your gardening section. It was helpful. Since we just retired, we are planning a serious garden, unlike in the past with just some tomatoes and peppers. We plan on giving carrots a try. And after what you said about the swiss chard, we’ll be trying that too. (which I have never had) By the way, I saw on Burpee seeds that there are actually different colored carrots. Have you ever tried them? I live in the hot sandhills of S.C. where it is hard to grow stuff without adding alot of fertilizers. (Except weeds…they always seem to do just fine.) We are working on a couple of compost piles to put in the raised beds that we plan to have. Anyway, just wanted to let you know, I like your webpage and will be back. 🙂 God bless you.

    • Kathleen Kathleen on 07/27/2020 at 7:47 pm

      Hi Dorothy, I’m so glad to hear that my site has been helpful to you! And yes, we’ve grown purple carrots before, which was fun. Keep me posted! 🙂

Leave a Reply