One of the most versatile of root crops, carrots (Daucus carota ssp. sativus) are delicious raw or cooked and deliver an impressive list of nutrients, especially beta-carotene, in colorful packages—from the familiar orange to purple, crimson, pink, white, and yellow as well as two-tones such as purple with an orange core.
Cultivated in the Middle East for more than 3,000 years, carrots were first grown for their greens and seeds, which resemble celery seeds in size and flavor. The popular orange vegetables we know today can be traced to 17th-century Dutch plant breeders, who focused on developing stout, sweet roots.
Now, gardeners can grow stalwart heirloom varieties alongside hybrids bred for disease resistance, enhanced nutrition, or color. Although successfully growing carrots can sometimes be challenging, the incomparable sweetness and flavor of a carrot freshly pulled from the ground is well worth the effort.
Carrots grow best in moderate weather, so sow seeds in spring after the soil has warmed to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, followed by a summer sowing for harvest in fall. Carrots that mature in cool fall soil develop more sweetness; in areas that don’t experience extremely low temperatures, they can also be left in the ground throughout winter.
Although carrots can adapt to any reasonably fertile soil, for optimal growth, plant them in deep, sandy loam with a slightly acidic pH. The soil should be as free of rocks, clods, and other obstructions as possible to avoid misshapen roots.
Raised beds are ideal because they increase the depth of available root space, but deeply dug in-ground beds also benefit carrots by providing cooler soil temperatures below the surface.
Before planting carrots, cultivate the soil in the bed at least 12 inches deep. Rake the soil smooth, mark off rows, and incorporate some balanced organic fertilizer into the bottom of four-inch-deep furrows.
Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers, which can cause roots to fork. Refill the furrow with loose soil, and plant the seeds a quarter-inch deep. Be sure to use fresh seeds. Seed tapes or pelleted seeds make sowing carrots easier.
Maintaining moisture is crucial to germination and the formation of uniform roots. In summer, cover newly planted carrot beds with an old sheet, or a double thickness of row cover, weighted around the edges. Water daily, and remove the covers after the seeds germinate, which can take seven to 21 days.
Carrots require attentive weeding and need to be thinned to about three inches apart to develop straight roots of good size. Eventually, the plants will grow large enough to shade out weedy invaders. Fertilize carrots lightly with a balanced organic fertilizer when they are about eight inches tall.
Getting Started – Choose a sunny, well-drained spot with easy access because young carrots require frequent hand weeding.
Planting – For best growth, direct-sow carrot seeds in spring after the soil has warmed to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re impatient, you can begin sowing two to three weeks before your last frost date in spring, but germination and growth will be slower.
Successive sowing can be made at three-week intervals where summers are not too hot. Sow carrots again in mid-to-late summer, starting about 10 weeks before your first fall frost is expected.
Spacing – Plant seeds a quarter-inch deep and a half-inch apart, in rows spaced at least eight inches apart. When the seedlings are about two inches tall, thin them to three inches apart.
Days to Maturity – 65 to 120 days, depending on variety and growing conditions.
Pests and diseases
Grooves or shallow tunnels in carrot roots may be caused by wireworms, which are the larvae of common click beetles. Thorough soil cultivation kills many wireworms. They also can be trapped by burying pieces of raw potato just below the soil’s surface in your carrot bed. The worms will tunnel inside the potato to feed. Insert some type of skewer into the potato pieces before burying them so they are easy to find and remove after a few days.
In cool climates, the larvae of carrot rust flies can devastate a carrot crop. The best defenses are crop rotation and keeping the plants securely covered with a lightweight row cover.
Black-yellow-and-green parsley “worms” are often seen munching carrot foliage. These are the larvae of eastern black swallowtail butterflies, which are valuable pollinators, so many gardeners tolerate light damage. You can also plant parsley nearby to lure the caterpillars away.
Fungi may cause leaves to develop dark spots or dry, curled edges in wet, humid weather. Minimize problems by growing disease-resistant varieties and keeping plants properly spaced for good air circulation.
Flyaway (75 days) and Resistafly (68 days) are orange carrots that get high ratings in taste tests and provide some resistance to carrot rust flies.
Kuroda (82 days) is a productive Asian variety that tolerates heat spells and also makes a great fall storage carrot.
Purple Haze (73 days) is a 2006 All-America Selections winner. This hybrid develops seven- to eight-inch-long purple roots with orange cores.
Rainbow (75 days) and other blends like Harlequin (73 days) are mixes of named varieties with different colors, so you can grow several from a single seed packet.
Red-Cored Chantenay (70 days) has been around for over a century and is still a top choice for growing in the fall. The thick, flavorful roots often prosper when grown in improved clay soils.
Enjoying your harvest
Carrots can be harvested when young as “baby” carrots, but most varieties taste best at full Maturity, evidenced by their root tops pushing up at the soil’s surface. To harvest, carefully loosen the outside of the row with a digging fork and pull up the roots.
Cut the foliage to a quarter inch and rinse the roots in water. Indoors, lay the washed carrots on a clean kitchen towel to dry before storing them in plastic bags in the refrigerator for up to three months. In cool climates, carrots can be packed in damp sand or sawdust and stored in a cold basement or root cellar.
Raw carrots make a healthy, sweet snack, add crunch to salads, or can be juiced to create nutritious drinks. Cooked, carrots are featured in many savory and sweet dishes. Bumper crops can be used in baked goods, stews, and soups. Carrots are also easy to blanch and freeze for long-term storage, and they make wonderful pickles.
Below you can find the recipes for canning and pickling carrots. These easy DIY examples will help you preserve your harvest for months.
I’ve learned to can carrots since I was a little girl, and my mother was my best teacher. Canning carrots is easy, and it will help you enjoy the flavor of fresh carrots anytime you desire. It can be done safely, and it’s not as an intimidating process as some believe it to be.
- Pressure canner (I use this one)
- Canning jars
- Canning lids and rings
- Canning utensils (I recommend these since they will make your work easier)
- 9 pounds fresh carrots (washed and peeled)
- Cannign salt (I use this brand)
Remove the taproot and the tops from the carrots, but also the tiny taproot.
Wash the carrots under cold running water. I recommend washing them a second time to make sure they are free of impurities. Let them drain.
Peel the carrots and then slice or leave them whole if they are smaller than ½ inch tick
Place the carrots in a large stockpot and add water until they are completely covered. Place the pot on the stove and bring it to a boil. Once it starts to boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
Take a canning funnel and use it to pack the carrots into the hot canning jars. Leave 1-inch of headspace.
Add the canning salts. I use ½ teaspoon for pints and 1 teaspoon for quarts.
Ladle hot water over carrots and salt leaving the 1-inch headspace.
Make sure you remove any air bubbles using a bubble remover.
Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean cloth.
Place the flat lid and ring on the jar, tighten and place the jars in the pressure canner. Add about 2 inches of water to the bottom of the canner, but don’t pour the water on the jars.
Place the lid on the pressure canner and make sure it’s closing properly
Turn the stove eye on high, vent steam for 10 minutes, and then place a weighted gauge on the vent.
Bring the pressure to 10 pounds and pressure can the carrots for 25 minutes if you use pint jars and 30 minutes if you use quart jars.
Once finished, cool the canner to zero pressure, carefully remove the lid, and let jars remain in hot water for 10 minutes.
Using a jar lifter, remove carrots from the canner and place them on a dishtowel on the counter. Allow sitting undisturbed for 24 hours.
The next day, you can remove the rings and the clean jars with a damp cloth.
Label and store your canned carrots in the pantry.
Making pickled carrots is much easier than canning them, and all you need to do is make a brine (water, salt, sugar, and spices), heat that brine up, and pour it over the carrots.
You will need to et the whole thing cool to room temperature. After that, you have to wait at least 2 hours. In general, the longer you wait, the more flavorful your pickles will become. Here’s how to do it. You will notice that I’ve added red pepper to the recipe, but if you don’t like spicy foods, you can remove it. My family likes them hot, but for you, it can be an optional ingredient.
- 1 pound of carrots (peeled and cut into sticks)
- 1 cup of water
- 1 cup of vinegar
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 tablespoon of kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon of black peppercorns
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
Add the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt.
Now increase the heat to medium and bring it to a boil. When the sugar is dissolved, remove it from the heat.
Pack the carrot sticks and garlic into a clean jar. You can use a 1-quart glass jar or two pint-sized jars.
Pour over vinegar solution.
Seal the jar, let it cool, and then refrigerate.
I usually let it sit in the refrigerator 2-3 days before serving.
Growing carrots is an easy process, and it’s something new gardeners can try without fearing that their crop might fail. Not only can you store the carrots you harvest from your garden easily in the cellar, but they can also be processed to be enjoyed for months to come. Give them a chance, and you won’t regret it!
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