A fresh crisp carrot right out of the garden is the biggest treat, especially for children. Somehow, it seems magical to pull on the tops of a plant, and a bright orange root emerges.
Carrots grow best in deep, sandy soil, with no manure added. Manure, if too fresh, will cause the carrots to be exceedingly hairy.
The roots will also split if there are stones or debris in the soil, so sift or rake out roots or rocks.
Thinning is a crucial part of getting large perfect carrots, because with competition from each other, the roots will be deformed and twist together.
As a biennial (which means they take two years to flower – the carrot forms in the first year, to carry the plant over the winter, and the flower forms in the second year) we’ve developed new types and varieties; the second year blooms are not an essential part of growing the plant, however, knowledge about how biennials work will help you store them properly.
Carrots have to be stored in a moist environment such as a root cellar. They will shrivel to nothing if they don’t have a high humidity during storage.
Actual wetness around them will cause them to rot, especially if they freeze; so how do you provide the right conditions?
A simple storage system involves burying the carrots in sand in a bucket; this provides the right conditions for months; you’ll still be pulling out carrots to put in soups and stews in January or February.
Some people cut off the top of the carrot to prevent them from sprouting feathery green growths.
This is where the biennial nature of the plant comes in to play; the root is just food for the flower, so cutting off the growth allows the root to store more goodness for you. Letting the leaves grow will just use up the moisture and nutrients stored in the root, leaving you with shriveled and useless carrots.
To grow carrots successfully, check on the seed package; make sure your season is long enough for the crop to have a chance at reaching a good size. The smaller the mature carrot, the less time it takes, so look for finger or planet types which will provide a crop in about six weeks.
Carrots are good for intercropping, especially planted around crops of plants that are above ground, like onions.
There is evidence that a close association with onions prevents carrot
fly in carrots, and onion fly in onions – each type of pest is repelled by the
scent of the other crop – a perfect symbiotic relationship. This is also known as companion planting.
Sow carrot seeds thinly – use a seeder if possible to prevent seeding too thickly. It’s important to keep the soil moist until the carrots have emerged from the soil; these are weak seedlings, and if a crust has formed, they will smother and die.
Some gardeners sow a few radish
seeds to help with this process, or cover the row with a board or burlap until
the seedlings have broken through. Check daily until they germinate so you don't wait too long to take the cover off and let the tiny seedlings have access to light.
Carrots require ample moisture – the roots are mostly water, so drip irrigation or a soaker hose works well if you’re forgetful.
This is essential during a dry spell – carrots will crack if they are deprived of moisture at any time during their growth.
Weeding is also important; carrots are not an assertive crop and weeds can choke them out.
If the soil is friable and sandy as it should be, weeds should be easy to pull out; alternatively, a grass clipping mulch, or finely chopped straw will help protect them.
Green shoulders, which occurs when the root is exposed to sunlight, can be an issue if the roots work their way out.
Pests that have to be controlled if you are to harvest any crop at all are pocket gophers and rabbits – they didn’t make the cartoons about Bugs Bunny out of a myth – low fences or even raised beds lined with chicken wire are the only way to protect the crop from greedy critters.