Q: I have a lot of trouble growing carrots. Do you have any tips?
You are not alone. Carrots are a finicky crop and among the most difficult vegetables to grow. Wooden, stunted and misshapen little pencils are the norm for many gardeners regardless of location, climate or experience. The following are a few tips that I hope will give you renewed confidence to try again next year.
Consider the Soil
Like all root crops, carrots do best in loamy soil with a touch of sandiness. They suffer and grow gnarly and deformed -- or worse still don’t grow at all -- when there are obstructions of any kind, most notably rocks or hard compaction. Most of us aren’t blessed with this golden combination of loamy sand. But amending with lots and lots of homemade compost just before planting time each year can make a big difference. However, in the case of impenetrable compacted ground or clay soil that is impossible to dig into or amend, your best bet is to build a deep raised bed on top and sow into that.
When and How to Sow
Sowing too early is a common mistake. Carrots are slow to germinate, but they are even slower and sometimes won’t sprout at all if the soil temperatures are too low. Roughly 70-75°F is ideal. I suggest sowing seeds two weeks before the last frost date. Add new seeds over the course of several weeks to stagger the harvest and avoid a rush of carrots all at one time. Since the tiny seeds are sown only ½” deep, it is essential to keep the soil moist through the long germination period. They will die if the top layer dries out or crusts over.
Protect the Seeds
I have trouble with digging squirrels in my garden. They always seem to follow after me and dig up any freshly tilled or sown soil, ruining my hard work and disrupting seed growth in the process. Over time I have learned to cover the bed with a row cover, netting or chicken wire immediately after sowing. Don’t forget to remove the protection once tiny leaves appear.
Keep the Soil Moist
Carrots grow wooden and thin during droughts. You’ll turn out a happy crop if you can manage to keep the soil consistently moist but not soggy right through the growing season. Amending with compost will help create soil that is well draining yet retains moisture well.
The Heat is On
Carrots do not like excessively hot soil. The bed should not be mulched after sowing as this can impede germination; however, a light sprinkling of grass clippings mid-season, once the crop is underway can offer the soil some protection from the summer sun’s hot rays. If summer is brutal in your area, you can try covering the bed with a light row cover to deflect some heat.
Growing in Pots
This is doable, believe it or not, as long as you can manage to keep the soil moist. The good news is you don’t have to battle with rocks or poor soil. Choose a nice, deep pot: 12-inches deep is ideal. Grow a short, half-sized variety. I’ve had incredible success in a big bucket with a cute, but tough little carrot called ‘Paris Market.’ Kids love it!
Garden authority Gayla Trail is the creator of YouGrowGirl.com.