Tips for Growing Carrots at Home
I’m happy to report carrots are one of the vegetables that I can direct sow and NOT have demolished by soil pests! Direct sowing in my garden tends to go more like this: sow seeds, wonderful little seedlings germinate, everything gets eaten by roly polies, earwigs, or slugs. Sound familiar? While I do have methods for trapping these critters (that you can read about HERE), anytime I direct sow I’m left with the uneasy feeling that those seeds will get eaten. Now, CARROTS don’t have that problem.
For some reason, I can simply direct sow my carrots and nothing touches them. This is extremely good news because a) direct sowing means I don’t have to waste prime space in seed starting pots b) no time wasted with transplanting c) with my method of seed sowing, you can plant carrots in minutes. Continue reading for my favorite carrot growing tips for the home gardener!
Here in Southern California, carrots are the perfect succession sowing plant for the majority of the year. I take a break during the height of Summer mainly because I don’t have time to keep the soil as evenly moist as carrots prefer, but also because they can grow tough and bitter due to our triple digit temperatures.
Related Article: How to Succession Plant to Maximize Your Harvest
Soil Requirements For Growing Carrots
Carrots are a root vegetable that will have trouble growing in hard, clay-heavy soil. Their ideal soil is loamy with good drainage. This may or may not be the time to wax poetic about the benefits of building healthy soil, but I encourage you to read Amending Your Soil Organically. The ideal “loamy” soil is a combination of decomposed organic matter, sand, and silt that work together to create a rich texture that drains well. As always, I encourage you to build the best soil you can over time. Be patient, follow good practices, and you will find that your soil will get better each year.
A carrot growing tip for heavier soil: If you feel like your soil is heavily compacted after a growing season, this would be the ONLY time I would till the soil slightly to break it up before planting carrots. Many times carrots that develop short and squat shapes are a result of your soil being too hard for them to grow deep into the bed.
You might be surprised to learn that carrots don’t like lots of fertilizer. They aren’t heavy feeders, so simply topping our beds off with compost, weeding, and removing any rocks/clumps is the perfect way to prep your carrot bed. Have you ever seen “hairy” carrots? Carrots can form tiny little roots all over due to an excess of nutrients OR due to water stress.
Carrots prefer full sun, but I honestly have lots of success in partial shade due to my garden zone (find your zone HERE). I am zone 10b, and I have found that our “full sun” locations in the garden are extremely intense for a lot of vegetables usually considered “full sun.”
Planting Your Carrots
My method of sowing is not very scientific and requires very little precision (remember, I’m a backyard gardener who isn’t growing to sell or for prizes or whatnot). Once your plot is prepared, water throughly That’s right, water your planting area BEFORE sowing the seeds. Then, take your carrot seeds and sprinkle an even layer over the entire area.
Next, take your favorite seed starting mix (or good quality, light soil mix) and sprinkle it over the seeds to cover. You want your layer to be about 1/4″ inch thick. Lightly tamp the soil down using your hands to slightly compact the area. Alternatively, skip the special mix, and cover with your garden soil. That works too, but I’m just sharing the carrot growing tips that worked best for me as a beginner.
Water GENTLY using a watering can or a spray head that won’t cause a complete mess and flood all your seeds away. Remember, keep that top layer moist for good germination!
Optional: you could pre-moisten the seed starting mix or whatever you use to top the seeds BEFORE covering the seeds. This can help ensure even moisture in your carrot patch.
Watering tips for flavorful homegrown carrots
Consistency, consistency, consistency! Once you have sowed your seed, carrots can take up to 3 weeks to germinate! You might notice that my seeds from the planting video emerged within 1 week. That’s because I had saved my seeds from this Summer, so they were fresh and well acclimated to my garden. One of my top carrot growing tips is to Keep the top layer of soil moist—this will most likly require daily, shallow watering. It feels weird to recommend shallow watering because for the majority of gardening circumstances, you always want deep watering that is less frequent.
After your carrots have germinated and grown into more established plants, you can maintain a watering routine more like the rest of your vegetable garden. Less frequency, and more focus on consistent moisture levels for best flavor.
Additional carrot growing tip: after sowing your seed, it is very common to cover your planting area with a shade cloth to aid in germination and protection. Some gardeners cover with cloth, newspaper, or burlap to keep in moisture until the seeds germinate. I’ve even seen wood planks! If birds like to dig in your garden beds, wire mesh can work as well as a temporary protection until the carrots surpass the microgreen size. If you lay a wood plank down, you just remove it once you see the carrots have germinated underneath. Don’t wait too long!
Thinning & Growing Carrots
Your carrots can take 2-4 months to mature. During that time you might hear about “thinning.” I don’t thin my carrots in the traditional way due to a couple of reasons:
In our warm climate, the carrots growing closely help to shield and mulch each other.
I save time and get more baby carrots along the way.
As my carrots grow, I just observe. If an area is starting to look super congested, I’ll pull a couple carrots as “baby carrots” leaving more room for the others to grow. You can eat the carrots at any stage (even the little baby ones). As they get larger, I’ll switch to pulling the largest (mature) carrots to let the smaller ones grow in.
Update March 2023: There’s now a Carrot Harvest YouTube video on my channel that shows how I grew pounds of carrots in just one square foot! Watch the video for even more carrot growing tips.
Harvesting & Storing Carrots
The mature size, shape, and color of your carrots will vary depending on the variety you planted. Check the description of the variety you grew in order to get the best idea of when to harvest. Carrots are awesome in that they can be eaten when smaller than their fully mature size—-like I talked about with thinning baby carrots—but they aren’t so great when left to get overly large. I find that carrots that have been left too long can get fibrous, tough, and bitter. Since carrots tend to store well, I recommend harvesting before letting them get too big and fibrous.
To harvest carrots, simply grab them by their greens (near the base) and pull up! Since your soil should be loose, they are not hard to dislodge. Occasionally, I’ve had to use a garden fork to loosen a bunch of carrots from the soil.
Immediately after harvesting carrots, it’s important to prep them for storage or else they will go limp.
Wash your carrots. Next, remove the tops by cutting or twisting them off. Do NOT cut the actual carrot, cut the greens and leave about one inch on top of the carrot. Take your carrots (which should still be slightly wet from washing but not sopping), and place them in a large ziploc bag. Seal and place in your refrigerator crisper drawer. The wetness will help them stay crisp for weeks while they store. As always, use common sense and check for mold or rot before using!
Carrot greens are edible! I only keep the really nice ones for cooking. If they have developed any powdery mildew, yellowing, or just don’t look vibrant I throw them out. The best greens I save and make a batch of carrot top mint pesto. YES. I don’t really have a recipe because I eyeball it (maybe coming soon!), but if you search online you can find one to try. The addition of mint is so good. Trust me.
What types of carrots should I grow?
There are so many different kinds of carrots you can grow. As with any vegetable, different varieties will do better according to your climate. The only way to know for sure is to try some varieties and take note which ones do well and which ones don’t. In Southern California I like growing purple dragon, carnival blend, red cored chantenay, sugarsnax, and oxheart. For a list of places I purchase seeds, you can check out my page HERE.
So those are all my favorite carrot growing tips that I use here in Southern California. If you’re gardening in SoCal too, definitely check out all the other amazing Fall & Winter Garden Crops we can grow. To see exactly how I sow my carrots seeds, make sure to watch our YouTube video below and subscribe!
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