After one or two seasons of experience, most gardeners make good progress achieving success with their favorite vegetable crops, except for carrots. Have you heard the old saying, “you make your own luck?” This is certainly the case with carrots. By attending to details and avoiding the pitfalls discussed below, you can grow at least one good crop of carrots each year, and possibly two.
Prepare a Deep, Fertile Bed
A week or two before I plant carrots, I use a digging fork to loosen the soil as deeply as possible, rake out every rock I can find, and then repeat the process, this time working in a low-analysis organic fertilizer. Improper fertilization can be costly with carrots. Too much nitrogen, especially from manure, can cause roots to become forked and excessively hairy. But failing to fertilize up front is risky, too, because applying liquid feed to maturing plants can cause the roots to crack. The solution is to use a low analysis organic fertilizer before planting, applied following label directions and thoroughly worked into the soil. I save my composted chicken manure for tomatoes and peppers.
Prime Older Seeds
The typical storage life of carrot seeds is three years, after which viability becomes iffy. However, priming seeds for four days often can invigorate old seeds, so you can use the last of a packet you loved in past seasons. Here’s the procedure: Place seeds in a heatproof cup and cover with very warm water (150°F/65°C). When cool, strain into a paper towel. Fold the towel to cover the seeds and place in an airtight container at room temperature for four days, checking daily to keep the paper towel lightly moist. Remove the seeds from the container and allow to air dry for a few hours, then plant immediately.
Avoid Root Disturbance When Transplanting Carrots
Carrots often react badly to any disturbance to their primary taproots, which makes them difficult to transplant. But it can be done by sowing seeds into thin cardboard tissue rolls, which can be a fun project if you feel truly cursed when it comes to carrots. You will need good sun to grow stocky seedlings, which can be transplanted with the cardboard tubes intact. Allowing the top of the tubes to rise one-half inch (1.2 cm) above the soil line after transplanting helps them function as cutworm collars, too. This is a great technique if your garden is tiny, you garden in containers, or you need to get a fall crop of carrots established in hot summer weather.
Give Seedlings Space
Keep seedlings weeded and thinned. As soon as seedlings appear, use a small pair of scissors to nip out crowded seedlings and little weeds, which cannot be allowed to stand in a young carrot bed. Indulge the planting with weekly weeding, knowing this is a temporary situation. After carrots grow to about 8 inches (20cm) tall, the foliage becomes thick enough to smother most weeds.
Use Carrot Seed Tapes for Simple Sowing
If all this weeding and thinning is not for you, make or buy carrot seed tapes, and cover them with weed-free potting soil. The seeds will emerge at proper spacing, with far fewer weeds within the seeded row.
Exclude Carrot Rust Fly
In many areas, carrot rust fly larvae take the fun out of growing carrots by ruining the roots with rotting tunnels. The fast-moving adults are active all summer, so carrots must be continuously covered with a fine mesh fabric barrier in areas where rust flies are a worry. It’s especially important to tuck in the cover after carrots are weeded or thinned, because the adult flies are attracted by the aroma of bruised carrot foliage.
Protect Carrots from Animals
Where I live, rabbits will ruthlessly thin young carrots if allowed to do so, and deer love to munch on carrot foliage. I solve both problems by growing carrots under cages made from wire fencing, with the ends cut and folded in to form boxes. When deer start nipping off the leaves that grow through the cage, as shown in the photo above, I pop a second cage on top of the first.
Ready for more tips and inspiration? Ben’s video on Growing Carrots from Sowing to Harvest covers cool ways to use the Garden Planner improve your luck with carrots.