When you think “garden fresh” is there a more quintessential vegetable that comes to mind than the carrot? Carrots are probably one of the most popular vegetables grown in the home garden and they are our best seller at the Farmer’s Market. My children have been known to crunch on fresh carrots pulled from the garden that have been merely brushed off and not washed and its no wonder why, there is nothing quite like the sweet taste and satisfying crunch of a freshly pulled carrot.
I have to be honest, carrots eluded me when I first started growing my own vegetable garden. I mean, I could grow them, but I couldn’t get those beautiful, long straight carrots that I wanted. So, I made it my mission to grow great carrots and am pretty happy with the carrots we grow now. So, these are my top tips and variety choices.
Forget the Nitrogen
So often in our gardens we are trying to up our nitrogen content for field crops (ie. Tomatoes, peppers, squash etc.) but nitrogen isn’t helpful for root crops. Nitrogen causes carrots to grow great big tops but the actual carrots are small and spindly with lots of hairy roots on the sides.
Soil makes the biggest difference for growing long, straight carrots. Sandy, loamy soil is ideal for carrots, so tilling peat moss and sand into your soil will make a big difference. Ideally you want to want to loosen the soil to a depth of 12-18 inches and remove any rocks or sticks in the soil as these can stunt growth and create twisted roots.
No vegetables like weeds but carrots really hate weeds and weeds can take over in the first few weeks of the growing season. A few good weedings right at the beginning of the season will get things under control. When carrots are grown densely (but with good spaceing!) their carrot tops create a canopy which helps prevent weed growth.
We use a stirrup hoe for weeding between our rows and this makes things quick and saves the back.
Carrots can grow densely however, THINNING THEM IS A MUST if you want them to have some size. I thin my carrots so that they are spaced to a distance of 1.25 inches. Thinning can be tedious and it can be hard to pull little plants but you will truly reap the rewards later if you do.
Carrots can be seeded before the final frost in the spring and they can continue to grow well into the fall and can be overwintered if done correctly. However, to really enjoy carrots throughout the season, you need to plant them over time. Carrots of course can be eaten as baby’s but when they mature they have a peak and after that they lose flavor and can crack so if you want to enjoy them throughout the season, it is important to do a few successions of plantings.
We typically start our carrots under tunnels at the beginning of April and then continue to plant every 3-4 weeks until July.
There are so many varieties of carrots to choose from, and some do better in heavier soils, some reach maturity very quickly and others take longer. Carrots generally like the cool growing seasons of spring and fall, however some carrots are prone to bolt if the soil is too cool during their growing season.
The following are the varieties we have had good success with in our zone 4 climate.
- Danvers (perfect for dense soils)
Coloured carrots are fun to grow, they always get some attention at the market. But coloured carrots can be tricky to grow and not all have great flavour. Coloured carrots can be more prone to bolting and cracking then the orange varieties.
We don’t grow rainbow carrots that include red, purple and white because we find that generally the days to maturity in these mixes are too variable. The carrots do not mature consistently. So instead we grow a rainbow carrot that includes, yellow, orange and white and is actually one type of carrot. Then we grow some red and purple varieties separately. My favourite red/purple variety is Dragon and this year I am excited to try Malbec for a red variety.
So, hopefully you are ready to grow a carrot rainbow that you can enjoy throughout the whole season!