Carrots have been a favored veggie request in the garden this year along with many inquiries on growing tips & different varieties.
We assume after seeing the bags of carrots in the grocery store that carrots are carrots, right??
Well, not exactly. We learned the hard way one year.
When we first started growing carrots at our current location, to say we had poor soil is an understatement. Our soil was full of clay and rocks and on top of that, Mother Nature hit us with the rainiest season I have ever gardened in. We were anxiously waiting for carrots, and when the time came to harvest those lush, leafy tops, we were disappointed to dig up tiny half-rotten carrots. Talk about a #carrotfailure!
So here is what you need to know to successfully plant carrots in your garden!
The first carrot variety is an Imperator. They grow up to 10 inches long and are usually high in sugar content which makes them a wonderful snack for fresh eating. These carrots require very loose, deep soil because they are so long. They will not perform well in compacted clay or rocky soil. They will not grow to their full potential without the depth to grow their full root length. Before planting make sure your soil is loose and you have the depth needed for these carrots.
Danvers are medium-length carrots with pointed ends and usually grow six to seven inches long. They are more tolerant of heavier soil and are typically a deep orange. Danvers have great flavor and store well.
Nantes carrots have a unique look to them as they are an heirloom variety from France. Nantes are exceptional for fresh eating and juicing. They have a blunt end, grow about 6 inches, and typically resemble a cigar. They prefer loose, well-drained soil so they are fantastic for shallow container gardening and can be sown close together for a quick harvest.
One of our favorites is the Yaya carrot. It grows consistently well in Wisconsin, particularly directly sown into the ground (& it’s the variety you see in the picture) .
Chantenay are shorter stubby, carrots. They can power through rocky and clay soils. They need to be harvested as soon as they become of size or they will turn woody, but they do have a rich flavor and typically store seamlessly. They are terrific for canning and freezing, along with fresh eating if picked in their prime.
And let’s not forget about the rainbow carrots. Rainbow carrots are found throughout the above carrot varieties. Each color originated from a different part of the world and has its unique history and health benefits.
Purple carrots originated in the Middle East and Turkey. The stunning deep purple color is known to guard against heart disease and is full of antioxidants. One of my favorite purple carrots is a Danvers-type called Cosmic Purple. It is high in antioxidants and anthocyanins, which have anti-cancer properties. They show beautifully in salads and soups.
Red carrots originate from China and India and are full of lycopene, which can reduce the rate of macular degeneration. And who doesn’t love a little extra support for their eye health?
Yellow carrots originated in the Middle East and are just as good for the eyes while enhancing the presentation of our dishes. They’re usually a Danvers-type carrot also great for juicing with quite an intense flavor when raw or roasted.
Lastly, we have the white carrot, which is sweet, beautiful, and sometimes mistaken for a parsnip. They average six to eight inches in length, and they usually have a mild taste but are sweeter than the orange carrot.
When it comes to planting carrots you can buy seed tape or manually sow the seeds yourself. Seed tape is more costly, however, the spacing is done for you which greatly simplifies the process. Reading the seed packet before planting is crucial so you can properly determine your planting location.
Carrots typically require some thinning once you start to see the tops peek apart. Carrot seeds are tiny and I find myself over-seeding them to make sure they all germinate. I use three fingers in between each carrot when it comes to thinning.
When space allows, we use a four-row seed planter to plant our carrots since the seeds are so tiny. It does an excellent job of spacing out the seeds and rows.
Keep the soil moist in dry weather to keep the carrots from bolting. Make sure to remove weeds regularly to minimize any competition for moisture and nutrients.
Carrots don’t normally need additional nutrient support but occasional mulching or compost can help prevent the carrots from turning green.
When it comes time to harvest, gently lift the carrot out of the soil. You can dig around to get a better look at the top of the carrot which should be your gauge for its maturity. You might loosen the soil around the carrots before removing them.
You can also leave them in the ground for a little bit and eat them as you go if you are short on storage space.
We always grow our tried and true Yaya carrots to ensure we have a solid carrot stock. But we also have a separate section in the garden for a little experimenting with other varieties. I encourage you to add the rainbow to your garden and play with the tastes and colors of the carrot family.
ONE LAST THING
Many garden-grown plants can be used in multiple ways, so the whole plant is providing for us. Let’s not forget that the tops of the carrots can be used as a garnish, whipping up a delicious chimichurri or pesto, or thrown in your soup stocks!