Historians believe that the carrot (Daucus carota subsp. sativus) originated in Central Asia some 5,000 years ago — with purple and red types being the first recorded, not orange! Carrots are low in calories, high in dietary fiber and chock-full of health benefits and essential nutrition such as vitamin A, vitamin C, minerals, antioxidants and beta-carotenes.
Select a garden site in full sun or very light partial shade and prepare the soil with ample amounts of organic compost. Carrots will reach perfection only when planted in deep, good-textured soil that is free of stones and debris. Grow the long varieties only if you can provide this type of soil. Choose shorter varieties if your soil is heavy or stony.
Note: Soil loaded with nitrogen may produce more foliage than root, so make sure soil is balanced before you plant.
How to Plant
Sow carrot seed in early spring 2 weeks before your last frost date — or in fall 10 weeks before your first frost date. Sow seeds thickly in rows 1 foot apart or broadcast seeds in 3-4cm wide raised beds. When tops are 2-5cm high, thin individual plants to 2-5cm apart. Thin again when they begin to crowd. Cover crowns that push through the soil with a layer of mulch to prevent tops from becoming green or bitter. Carrots benefit from applications of compost tea from emergence until the tops are 15cm high.
Like all root crops, carrots require plenty of natural fertilizer rich in potassium. Excessive nitrogen or uneven soil moisture will cause forking and split roots.
Harvesting and Storage
Allow 50 to 85 days from seed to maturity. Harvest at finger size for best texture and flavor, and to make harvesting easier, water before you pull them up. Extend the storage life of carrots by cutting off all but 3cm of the leaves and stem. Place in a container of water and keep in the refrigerator. To store overwinter, pack in damp sawdust and keep cool.
Insect & Disease Problems
To prevent problems with diseases and insects, do NOT plant where carrots or parsley have grown for three years (see Crop Rotation In the Home Garden). Rotted or dwarfed plants may be due to the carrot rust fly. The maggots of this fly are often found chewing on the roots. If your plants are stunted and the leaves are yellow, suspect nematodes. Unlike beneficial nematodes, these microscopic pests attack the roots of the plant causing galls (swelling) to develop. Protect emerging seedlings from birds, snails and slugs. If seedlings topple over, suspect damping off. Check for watery soft rot on the stem at the soil line.
Seed Saving Instructions
This biennial will cross-pollinate, so isolate 1/4 mile from other carrots during the second year when plants are going to seed. Plants can tolerate a light frost, but make sure to harvest in the fall before a hard frost. Trim the tops to 3cm and store roots in lightly damp sawdust, sand or leaves in a root cellar over the winter. Replant in the spring and harvest seed heads when dry.