Beautiful, tasty, crunchy, healthy – just a few words that come to mind when I think about carrots. Raw or cooked, sweet or spicy, juiced, fermented, pickled, and baked – carrots have so many uses. Carrots are a must-have in the garden. If you are into growing food, grow carrots.
My mother was born in Ukraine as a daughter to European immigrants. In the 1930s they were deported to Siberia in a cattle train into the woods. They had not much to eat and were sent there to work and die.
Relatives mailed them a carrot seed package. My grandma planted the seeds and started using the little carrots as soon as she could. My mother remembers pots and pots of carrots that grandma would simmer for meals. Those carrots saved their lives. The more the carrots grew and the more they ate them, the stronger they became. Finally, they were able to leave that place and survive the trip back home. Carrots have a special place in our family history.
Carrots come in all kinds of colors and shapes from black to purple, red, orange, yellow, and white. Also long, short, round, thick, or thin. There is a carrot variety for every letter of the alphabet and a carrot museum page where you can find all kinds of interesting information.
In a home garden, it is good to find a variety best suited for your climate, soil, and taste. If you have heavy soil grow thick and short carrots. If you have sandy soil grow long thin carrots that can reach down deep for moisture and nutrients.
Carrots are a cool-weather crop and grow well in our short summers. We like to grow thicker carrots like Chantenay (short and stout) and Denver (wide shoulders, and a slowly tapering cylindrical shape), as well as Nantes type – Touchon or Little Finger, are great, (round at the top and round at the bottom). The long and straight imperator type carrots are not so much suited for our soil. Also, multicolored and mini carrots are fun to grow, but not our regular crop.
All carrots are biennial, meaning they go to seeds the second year. That also means that they can be kept in the soil all winter long. More about this in harvesting carrots.
Carrots can be planted almost at any time of the season when the soil temperature is higher than 7C (45F). With some protection, you can grow some very early or late sweet carrots. In warm areas carrots are best grown in the winter as a winter crop.
Carrots grow well in a wide variety of soil, just find the carrot that is best suited for your soil. However, carrots do not appreciate compacted soil.
Carrot / Soil Metaphor
If the soil is hard, they will still grow, but hang on to each other to become stronger to push down the roots. Isn’t that what we all do? When life gets hard, we cling to each other. For carrots at least, it is better to work on the soil quality, not on more hugging and clinging. Maybe it’s better for us too.
Create a soil and a life that everyone can thrive in. For soil, it means to lay down mulch, it could be compost, wood chips, hey, etc. Any natural materials work. Isn’t it the same with life? If we lay to rest past troubles and future expectations, things suddenly become simple and beautiful. Life/soil becomes soft and full of life. A place to thrive.
Carrot seeds are very small and hard to handle. To make planting easier you can get Pelleted Carrot Seeds. Since those are more expensive, you can also make your own seed tapes using toilet paper. This can easily be made ahead of time in the winter eliminating thinning work in the summer. Or carrots can be planted with tweezers, mixed with sand, or by using a Seed Sower.
In the Square Foot Garden Book, it is suggested to plant 16 carrots per one square foot. Even when grown in rows, it is a good idea to plant a square foot garden in the row. This way you can grow lots of carrots in very little space with no thinning.
In this video, I show you how. If you can’t see the video below, turn off your ad blocker and it will show.
As you see in the video, I make the square foots a bit generous, and let 1-4 seeds grow together. This only works well in mulched, loose soil.
It is worth it to plant carrots just right without thinning them out later to get bigger and better carrots. Thinning can attract unwanted carrot flies, read more below.
Carrots can also be grown in a container, grow bag work best for vegetable container gardening. You can grow 16 carrots in just one bag!
Carrots have a long germination time of 14 – 21 days. Whenever I start wondering if they will ever come up, they do.
If you want winter or spring carrots, plant them a bit later, depending on your weather. Here in Zone 3, we plant them late May to early June. Choose a location for the carrots with covering them for winter in mind. One where the snow accumulates anyways is best. If there is a blizzard, carrots need extra protection and snow is the best insulation in addition to the straw.
Carrot flies (Psila rosae) lay eggs on soil close to the carrot, celeriac, parsnips, and parsley plants. The larvae or maggots start tunneling on the surface and then go deeper into the root.
The flies come around in late spring and early fall, depending on climate. Some years there are almost none, and in other years there can be many.
To protect the carrots and other effected crops, they can be covered with netting. Companion planting with onions family plants is said to help too. However, we have had carrot maggots on carrots growing in the same bed with onions.
Most years however we grow great carrots with minimal damage. It is important though to check for carrot maggots and not leave infected carrots in the ground, you are only multiplying the carrot fly.
A reader shares some great advice on how to avoid carrot flies:
“I have always had about a 1% infection rate but rotating and never leaving ANY carrots in or on the ground or in the compost seems to hold them at bay. Plus I seed at final spacing, never thin and have all weeding done by the end of May before the main hatch of flies from overwintering larvae in the neighborhood. Weeding/thinning is reported to attract new flies because the leaves get bruised and have a more intense smell”.
… in Fall
Carrots can be harvested at any size, but develop more flavor with maturity. Also, the cooler it gets, the sweeter carrots will become. Even in our zone 3 it is worth it to leave carrots as long as possible in the ground. We have harvested the sweetest carrots in November.
… in winter or spring
Carrots can be left in the ground all winter. They will continue to grow in spring and bear seeds in the second year.
Note, that only healthy carrots can overwinter, if you have carrot maggots, you are only multiplying the problem.
To be able to harvest carrots in the middle of winter or even spring they need protection. If you get a lot of snow, that might be enough to keep your carrots from freezing. If snow is not as reliable and winters are cold, carrots need a good layer of straw. We also like to add a tarp to the straw to keep them from getting moist.
Here is step by step in picture what we do and it works for us here in our cold Alberta winters. It is important you have the carrots covered before the snow comes and the ground freezes. We did not enjoy harvesting them in the winter, so we just leave them till spring (March).
- In fall before frost cover the carrots with straw.
- Cover the straw with tarp and leave all winter long making sure during blizzards and extreme cold that there is a thick layer of snow on top of the covering.
- Remove cover in spring and let the carrots dry.
- Harvest fresh winter carrots.
In March, carrots that were left under straw and snow were still good. We ate the last carrot (harvested in March) and the first carrot (planted in a greenhouse in March) the same day in June. Both were super yummy.
Carrots store best in the ground (see harvesting carrots), but also in the fridge and a good cellar. The tips on how to store them vary. I think it mostly depends on your weather (temperature and humidity). Find what works best for you.
We store our carrots in plastic bags in the fridge. They keep best in the GreenBags Freshness-Preserving Food/Flower Storage Bags washed and cut off both ends. We also put some paper towels in to catch the moisture inside. The carrots store well this way for at least 3 months.
Here are other carrot preserving tips:
I hope this post encourages you to grow and preserve more yummy carrots.
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I grown scarlet nantes in my raised garden bed. I like them because the are short and fat since my soil depth is limited. We don’t get really cold winters on the southern BC coast, so I just mound up dirt around the tops and leave them in the soil. I can go out and pick a carrot as needed all the way until early spring when it’s time to start all over again. – Margy
Oh how nice, I would love to be able to go harvest any time of the year. Love your floating garden!
I was just thinning my carrots yesterday so this post was quite timely. I’m hoping to get a nice harvest this year with carrots that look like the ones in your pictures! Last year I got a lot of small carrots (combination of not thinning enough and a dry late summer) so to preserve them I cut them and pressure canned them with onions and kale for a soup base.
Your onion, kale, carrot soup base sounds yummy. I like it when carrots get big, less washing for more carrots ;). Hope yours grow well for you!
You are mistaken, Carrots are biennial (flowering taking place every two years), not biannual (occurring twice a year)
Oh, my mistake, will fix that – Thank you! Love all your information about carrots.
Thanks for the excellent information, you always inspire!
Thank you Tina for your kind words 🙂
Jennifer A says
I grew my first batch of carrots this year. They are all hidden under my squash plants, hopefully growing well. We shall see! I’ve never grown them before, we have rocky dirt that makes it hard to grow them. Thanks for sharing on the Homestead Blog Hop!
Hope your carrots grow well. If they are covered with the squash leaves, you might want to cut some leaves back, to give them some sunshine. Carrots like it sunny ;).
Christine| Once Upon a Time in a Bed of Wildflowers says
And my son was *just* asking if we could grow carrots this year…
Also, thank you for sharing your family’s history with carrots. It was very interesting!
You are welcome. I cherish that history and am very grateful that we can grow our own food.
I am so thrilled to read your blog!! I garden in Northern Alberta. I believe my zone is technically 2, but I can grown zone 3 perennials in my yard. I love all your tips and advice, and am so enjoying back reading your posts. I have done a bit of experimenting with preserving carrots. The very best carrots were the ones that I buried in the ground in the Fall. I received a huge amount of carrots from a friend and didn’t have room to store them in my cold room (I had already filled my cold room with my own carrots). I dug a hole in my garden and put all the carrots in, covered with dirt and straw. In December I was nervous that they were going to freeze if I left them much longer so I dug them up. I think I could have left them as the straw and snow were doing a great job at not letting the frost get down. Those were the best tasting carrots I’ve ever had. The ones in my cold room did okay – but the ones from the ground were still in perfect condition, and very sweet. This last Winter I stored my carrots in my cold room again. The ones that were in rubbermaid tubs with the lids on did the best. I did lose a few to rot, but not that many. We were eating carrots all Winter long even until the beginning of May! Everyone that tried them were so amazed at how great they tasted. I would like to try leaving them in the ground all Winter long like you do – that sounds much easier than digging them out of the snow.
Miranda, thank you so much for sharing! Those are great tips, to bury in the fall seems to be a great way to store carrots that do not grow close to the house, but can be stored there. The Rubbermaid tub sounds good to, question, did you wash them before storage?