Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Grow Your Own Carrots!


     A: Carrot is a big fat tap root.
     B: Tap roots plow straight down through the soil. 

     C: Wild carrot, Daucus carotais commonly known as Queen Anne's Lace. (Anne was decapitated by her malicious husband, thus the red 'drop of blood' in the flower's ivory colored umbelliform center.)

     D: Domesticated carrots are cultivars of a subspecies, Daucus carota subsp. sativus.

     E: Garden carrots (domesticated) are wimps.

     You might wonder, when domesticated carrots are related to Queen Anne's Lace, a weed with a tap root that can lance solid rock, why are domesticated carrots so wimpy? Because like most food plants cultivated from the wild, we've bred out their most rugged characteristics, selecting only the tenderest, sweetest hybrids. 
     Which means if you want to grow carrots in your garden you'll need deep, loose, pliable soil that has excellent drainage (no standing water) yet retains moisture. This soil must have little clay and no stones, weeds, or roots from other plants obstructing the carrot's downward growth. Sandy loam soils are the most ideal because they have a nice balance of large mineral particles and tilthy organic matter. 
     Carrots also hate acidic soil. 6.5 to 7.5 is the target. If you don't know your garden soil's pH, test it. Where I live in Michigan the soils are often extremely high in phosphorous and potassium is sometimes low. Generally the rule for nitrogen is one pound of per 1,000 square feet. Do not over fertilize. Excess nitrogen causes carrots to have hairy, branching roots. I mostly use slow-release fertilizers in my vegetable beds and of course lots and lots of compost mixed into the soil.

Soil Thermometer

    Around planting time in spring, monitor garden soil temperatures using a soil thermometer. 50°F is the best for carrot germination. The warmer it gets the less successful germination will be, plus carrots grow janky in hot weather so always get seeds in while the soil's still on the cooler side but not chilly to the touch.
       Place the seed on the ground, press it against the moist soil and barely cover. Plant seeds six inches apart or thin to six inches after germination. Crowded Carrots (also the name of my ukelele rock band) are skinny, crooked and malnourished. Keep the soil consistently moist (damp sponge level) for even germination. Carrots need precisely 0.787402 inches per week (not all at once!) but you can round this up to one inch without deleterious effect. Drip hoses work exceptionally well for controlling moisture in the vegetable garden. 
     (Just kidding about the mathematical exactitude, by the way, aim for about 1 inch or water per week, including rainfall.)
     Unfortunately the medium-heavy soil on my property is not ideal for growing carrots. I've loosened and amended with compost over 15 years but the native clay is sticky and holds water. I've tried growing mini varieties like Round Romeo but washing and peeling marble-sized carrots is hardly worth the effort unless you have small-fingered children who enjoy prepping food. I prefer growing long carrots like Nantes varieties, which you can purchase from Renee's Garden
     So I use raised beds for growing my carrots. I've found that fire pit rings work nicely for root crops. I buy them at a nearby hardware store and bring them home in the trunk of my car. It's less work and hassle than building another raised bed from lumber and hardware, and fire pit rings are easily portable.
     Whatever you use for a raised bed be sure that it is deep enough for carrots to form long straight roots. Fill the container with the best possible bagged garden soil and mix in compost and/or aged manure.  
    Pests of carrots are Aster leafhoppers, wireworms and carrot weevils. The very best way to control these bugs is covering the carrots with Agribon at planting time. In combination, responsible use of organic pesticides like horticultural soaps and bacillus also work well. Last summer I started using this technique for broccoli, lettuce and cabbage. It worked beautifully.
     And remember to rotate! Never grow plants in the same family in one place for more than two years in a row. Cover crops such as alfalfa, rye, and clover are also extremely beneficial for controlling pests in the garden.
    Good luck with growing carrots this year and I hope you have great success. 

   Shane VanOosterhout is The Passionate Gardener.  

For more garden inspiration, you can follow him on Facebook

1 comment:

Medha Rode said...

Can I grow carrots on my windowsill then?