Let’s Talk About Growing Carrots From Seed
Are carrots really the center of every veggie lover’s world? I don’t think so! I am one of the few who have never, ever liked them…at least eaten raw…even if they came straight from my backyard garden. I know they are good for me…just like all of my other garden crops. I just can’t seem to enjoy them like many other folks do. But, as I’ve grown older, I find myself growing carrots from seed just about every garden season.
Grandma used to say, “Carrots are just so nutritious that you can’t leave them out of your life.” And, she is absolutely on the mark!
Carrots Are Really, Really Healthy!
This little root vegetable is full of beta-carotene and fiber. It is rich in: antioxidants, vitamins A / B / C / E / K, and an assortment of minerals – potassium, cobalt, magnesium, iron, copper, iodine, and phosphorus. It doesn’t get much healthier than that!
A compound in carrots, falcarinol, reduces the risk of developing cancer. Vitamin A and beta-carotene fight inflammation. Carrots reduce cholesterol, help prevent heart attacks, boost the immune system, and improve digestion, as well as increase heart and oral health.
Don’t forget the benefit that our mothers used on us: improved eyesight! Carrots may also improve night blindness but, contrary to popular belief, carrots will not give you night vision.
How Are Baby Carrots Made?
As carrot crops are thinned in their early stages of growth, they become baby carrots. Some varieties of carrots are grown specifically to be harvested before maturity…the “baby” stage. These carrots are sweeter and more tender.
About 30 years ago, a carrot farmer in California was tired of throwing away slightly rotted or imperfect carrots that he couldn’t sell. He purchased a green bean cutter and chopped up his carrot discards. Then, he ran them through a potato peeler to create a “baby-cut” carrot. This same basic process is in use today.
Now, stores sell both “baby” carrots and “baby-cut” carrots. The package label should tell you which type they are. If the label says “baby” carrots, then the carrots are harvested before they mature. If “baby-cut” is listed, then they probably came from larger, mature carrots that would have otherwise been discarded.
“Baby-cut” and “baby” carrots, both organic and non-organic, are treated with a chlorine bath and rinsed in potable water…to reduce microbial contamination, like E.coli, and prolong the orange color and crispness. That’s why they are moist inside the package. It is an industry practice to subject most pre-cut food items to a chlorine bath.
We Just Gotta Have Some Carrots…
But, How Can Carrot-Haters Like Me Eat Them?
Carrots release more of their nutritional ingredients if they are cooked. And, I always thought “raw” was best for all vegetables. Go figure!
This little orange root is cooked in soups and stews. It is mashed into baby food pudding. It is fried, boiled, steamed, sliced, chopped, shredded, juiced, dehydrated…and consumed in just about every possible way other than its original form most of the time. Have you ever had glazed carrots julienne? Even I think it’s delicious!
Another News Flash!
Don’t throw away carrot tops. Those carrot leaves are edible. Stir fry them or use them in salads. Young leaves harvested before root development have a milder taste. After the roots mature, the alkaloid levels are higher…increasing the bitterness.
Just One More News Flash!
Did you know that, eating too many carrots will turn your skin yellow? It’s called “carotenemia.” For this to happen, you have to eat 10 carrots a day for several weeks before the yellowing begins to occur.
Slice up some carrots and cucumbers and we can play checkers. I’m ready!
Okay! I’m Convinced! Let’s Go Plant Some Carrots!
There are fundamentally four varieties:
- Chantenay – are fat and short…around 4 inches long at harvest.
- Danvers – are more conical and tapered…getting to around 6 to 8 inches.
- Imperator – are about the same size as Danvers but, their tapering is slimmer. There are some purple varieties of these that are very sweet and crunchy.
- Nantes – are also the same length as Danvers and Imperator. They are about the same shape as Danvers and are the easiest to grow in home gardens.
I always choose Nantes style carrots and here’s why…
Time to Plant
There are two major obstacles to overcome in order to ensure that we harvest beautiful, tasty carrots:
I meticulously till the carrot bed as deep as I possibly can…at least 10 to 12 inches. Then, I remove all sticks and rocks…and crumble the clumps…leaving the soil soft and finely textured. Carrot roots that encounter obstructions will grow crooked and I like my carrots as straight as I can get them!
Carrot seeds take special care and a long time to germinate in the soil. With direct soil planting, the seeds can take 14 to 21 days to start sprouting and, the germination rate is low…around 60%. So, I take steps to hasten the sprouting process and improve germination.
- Soak the carrot seeds in water for an hour or two then, place them in a wet paper towel on a heating pad with a low setting…much like the germination process detailed in one of my earlier articles. Keep the seeds in the wet towel for a few days before planting them into the soil.
- Put the seeds on top of the tilled soil…3 or 4 seeds per inch along the row…with a foot between rows. Thinly cover the seeds with no more than a quarter-inch of potting soil. A good quality potting soil will retain moisture longer. And carrot seeds should stay moist throughout the germination and sprouting process.
- Position a permeable garden fabric cover over the row of carrot seeds. It will keep the seeds and potting soil from being washed away in a heavy rain. The cover will also help keep the soil moist.
- When the sprouts are three inches high, gently thin the row, allowing at least an inch and a half of space between them. Try to keep the strong, healthy sprouts and cut out the weaker ones.
The key words here are “gently thin” because the sprouts are very sensitive and the slightest disturbance can cause them to grow crooked or forked. I suggest getting close and personal with them and using a good pair of sharp scissors or garden shears, such as my Gonicc 8″ Pruning Shears, to thin them out slowly.
TIP #1: Always use scissors to cut away weeds in the carrot row. Pulling up weeds by the roots can disturb the sensitive sprouts close by.
Are you curious about how to grow carrots indoors?
Carrots can be ideally grown in containers using potting soil. It is ideal since the potting soil is already loose with no rocks or other obstructions and, as long as you give the carrots plenty of sunshine, adequate water, and an occasional dose of fertilizer, prize-winning carrots will be your results!
Prune only to remove diseased or damaged leaves. Otherwise, leave the carrots alone until they are ready to be harvested.
TIP #2: Do not bruise carrot leaves during the growth process. Damaged leaves will attract carrot rust flies.
TIP #3: Carrots, like most vegetables like to have at least six hours of sun each day but, they can tolerate shadier areas. Roots also prefer the soil slightly moist…but, not soggy. An inch of water per week is sufficient.
Time to Harvest
The top of the orange carrot root will begin to push up out of the soil and you can see if they are mature enough to remove. Bank some soil over the orange root top of carrots to be harvested later. If exposed to the sun, the orange carrot tops will ultimately turn green and bitter.
TIP #4: Before harvesting carrots, wet the soil thoroughly. Remove them by twisting the carrots tops and pulling them up and out of the ground. Cut off the green leaves, wash, and refrigerate. If left attached, the leaves will suck the moisture out of the carrot roots.
Pests and Diseases
The main enemies of carrots are:
Carrot Rust Fly
The Carrot Rust Fly lays its eggs at the base of carrots. The larvae feed off the roots creating tunnels and grooves…causing rot and changing the taste. Cover the plants with garden fabric to keep the adults away. The worst period for Carrot Rust Flies is in the spring when plants are young. Waiting a couple of months after the last frost to plant will minimize this problem.
Wireworms live in the soil and love carrots! Squeeze them and they get as stiff as a wire! They eat holes in carrot roots making them unpalatable.
Wireworms are the offspring (larvae) of the click beetle. Before planting carrots, cut up some root pieces and bury them along the row reserved for growing carrots. Check the pieces every few days. If there are wireworms in the soil, the pieces will show the evidence. Chucking the pieces out of the garden goes a long way in reducing wireworm population.
Wet leaves that do not dry out quickly may lead to diseases and carrots can experience several forms of leaf blight. Catching the problem early and spraying with a fungicide usually cures it.
My mother used to be frustrated at my lack of enthusiasm about eating carrots. She finally decided to start grating them into very short and fine slices. Then, she started hiding them in a number of foods I enjoyed…hamburgers, muffins, smoothies, carrot cake…the list became extensive.
One day I asked her why she stopped criticizing me about not eating these orange root veggies.
She said, “Jimmy…I love you…but, as far as what you eat, I really don’t carrot all!”
And, that really is the end of this carrot page!
Tell me a carrot story, ask a question, or share some carrot growing tips in the comment section below…if you “carrot all“…
You can also email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim, the Life Long Gardener
NOTE: For further reading, including scientific names and other data, have a look at Wikipedia’s carrot page.