How to Grow · Profile · Vegetable

Carrot: How to Grow – Vegetable of the Month

Carrot stats/requirements at a glance

Ease of Raising:
4/5 – Easy, monthly check up
Water:
3/5 – Moderate (high heat, every second day)
Sun:
5/5 – Full sun, no shade
Training:
1/5 – None
Fertilise/Feeding:
3/5 – Moderate (growing, monthly) to Minimal (during root set, none)
Time to Harvest:
4/5 – A long time (3-4 months)
Frost Hardiness:
3/4 – Mildly Hardy (can’t take severe frost)
Uses
Culinary
Most Problematic Nemesis:
Powdery mildew, nutrient deficiencies, nematodes
Container Plant:
Only ‘short-rooted’ varieties

 

Daucus carota Strum 12033 Kurt Stober Online Library BioLib
Daucus carota
Strum 12033
Kurt Stober Online Library BioLib

Quick Intro

Carrots are a vegetable garden and dinner plate staple. Due to the revitalisation of older and heirloom varieties – one does not simply have to plant the boring old orange carrots. Carrots come in a diversity of colours, shapes and sizes to suit any garden, balcony or culinary taste. Carrots are generally easy-going, but take a long time to root and act as indicators of poor soil quality.

History

The modern orange, crisp and sweet carrot that we all know and love had far more humble beginnings as a pale, tough and small tap-rooted plant. Its origins are speculated to be from Afghanistan varieties that are purple in colour. It spread to Europe, where yellow carrots were selectively bred along with orange varieties from The Netherlands to yield the modern-day carrot.

 

Science Stuff

Carrots (Daucus carota) belong to the Apiaceae family, which is commonly known as the parsley and carrot family. Apiaceae includes other roots, herbs and spice plants, such as, Celeriac, Chervil, Angelica, Anise, Dill, Fennel, Parsnip, Celery, Lovage, Cicely, Coriander, Cumin, Celery and Caraway.

The different colours of carrots are derived from different pigments or lack thereof. Anthocyanin, is responsible for purple and red colouring of fruits, flowers and roots. The red and purple pigmentation of fruits and flowers attract pollinators as well as animals that eat and disperse seeds. Anthocyanin is a powerful anti-oxidant and is found in any fruit or vegetable with purple or dark red colouring. Yellow or white carrots lack this pigment, due to the loss or mutation of the gene responsible, which affects pigment production. This pale characteristic was preferred as these carrots did not colour soups or sauces purple – but I personally find them a bit bland in taste and they aren’t as hardy.

β-carotene or Carotene is responsible for the bright orange colour of supermarket carrots, which is metabolised in the presence of bile salts to Vitamin A. Eating way too many carrots (like way too many) can make your skin orange! 😹

 

Carrots of the rainbow, Photo: ARS, Stephen Ausmus
Carrots of the Rainbow!
Different pigmented and non-pigmented carrots,
Photo: ARS, Stephen Ausmus

Growing Carrots

Carrots are easiest to raise through direct-seeding into the garden as they do not transplant well. I know that the seed packages claim that year-round carrot seeding can be done in our South African climate (Zone 7 especially), but winter sown carrot take excruciatingly long to root. Also winter carrots tend to be fibrous by harvest time. So I would suggest the earliest time to plant carrots would be about a month before Spring Equinox (so anytime from the 20th of August) up to the Autumn Equinox (~20 March).

 

Carrot seedlings Daucus carota
Carrot seedlings

 

Long rooted carrots should be planted in the garden with soil dug over at least 30 cm deep (that is about as the full length of the garden spade) and are designated as your main crop. Short rooted, globe varieties or baby varieties can be grown in pots that are at least 20 cm deep and will supply carrots earlier than the main crop.

Carrots in my garden take up to 3 months to set a decent sized root and I think that it is likely the standard amount of time. Potassium is essential for carrot root set. My very first carrots looked like bottle-brushes with a lot of fine roots that resembled hairs and nearly no tap-root, due to the lack of potassium in the soil. Potassium in general is very good for all fruits and vegetables, so be sure to get some organic fertiliser (such as Talborne Organics Vita – Flower & Fruit) with a 3:1:5 (NPK) value works great! I also use some half-strength liquid feed once every two weeks (Biogrow Biotrissol, NPK 3:2:5) when carrots are seedlings. But stop any fertilisation once the carrots are about a month old or when root set starts (orange root development becomes apparent). If you fertilise past this stage you will get split roots! 😑 Potash from burning non-treated wood from garden cleanup, which also contains lots of potassium and other goodies, can be added regardless of root set – which makes for really useful stuff!

 

Carrot split splitting too much fertilizer (Daucus carota)
Split carrots from too much fertiliser
Carrot diverse row planting, vegetable gardening, alfalfa
Diverse root plantings, some beet on the left, carrots in the middle row and onions (leeks) to the right.
There are also some trefoil-clover (note not sour-sobs!) amongst the roots
for some extra diversity and green manuring!

In the previous version of this post I had a section on succession planting. But due to my more diverse planting schemes I don’t really do succession or use square-foot gardening principles anymore. I tried to combine plants (other than roots) in the carrot plots, but I found that larger plants start to overshadow the carrots or completely smother them. This previous season I had some alfalfa seeds plant themselves in my carrot patch (which included alternating beets and onion rows – it is the easiest method to generate diversity as well as keeping harvesting and seeding easy). The alfalfa has an upright, spindly growth habit and thus did not bother the carrots at all. Alfalfa is also a green manure and soil builder so I just left it with the carrots. Come harvest time and the carrot roots were beautiful! 😙 I really do think that the alfalfa had something to do with this and next season I am incorporating more alfalfa plants into my other plots! 😎

 

Carrot Daucus carota, winter veg harvest grown with alfalfa
Carrots harvested this season that had been growing with the alfalfa.
Photo includes some other winter root veg (turnips) and
leafy greens (spinach and pak choy)

Other Carrot Tips
When the carrots start to set their roots – cover the exposed root with soil, this prevents ‘green shoulders’ on the root due to greening on the top of the root when it is subjected to sunlight.
Dead and damaged leaves can be removed along with ones infected with Powdery mildew. The powdery mildew spray I use for Cucurbits has an inhibitory effect on the carrot mildew, so it’s worth a try, see Pest Control. Powdery mildew only affects the carrot greens and carrot growth – but the carrot roots are safe to eat with powdery mildew greens.

 

Carrot, Daucus carota, Powedery Mildew
Powdery Mildew on Carrot leaves

If seedlings are grown next to larger crops – just look out for the larger crop leaves not smacking the seedlings on the head! – especially when the wind blows or during rain. Remove any leaves that are in danger of hitting seedlings or is already lying atop seedlings, since this smothers, damages and sometimes kills seedlings. Also look out for cats or chickens sneaking into the garden and scratching or walking atop the seedlings! 😨

 

Carrot Nematodes Organic Pest Control Root Knot
Carrot nematodes 😬

Nematodes can also be a problem for carrots. They cause forking and galling of carrot roots. The nematodes cannot invade plant roots when temperatures go below 15-18oC (59-64oF), so your March sown carrots should be in better shape than summer grown ones if your soil is prone to nematodes. An environmentally friendly way of getting rid of nematodes is to plant marigolds (Tagetes species, same as black-jacks) in the plot for a full season or as a cover crop before sowing of root crops. Marigold roots produce a toxin which is nematicidal. I suppose you can also inter-plant rows of carrots after the marigolds have been in the soil for a while – it should work just as well! 😋… Ugh I hate marigolds, they always look like weeds trying to be pretty…hmm, maybe I should just include rows of them just out of principle, get some dwarf varieties… Anyways.

 

Marigold Field trees sky
Ha! Let see how you like them marigolds! Take that Nematodes!

 

Harvesting & Storing

Carrots are pulled from the ground by grabbing the leaves close to the root and turning the root while you pull it out. If the root is being stubborn, do not pull too hard or the root will break in half! Or you fall back and land flat on your bum! 😂 Rather dig out or loosen some of the soil around the root and then remove.

Long term storage: If you can, carrots can be stored in trays/boxes containing sand for winter usage. After washing the carrots, the leaves are trimmed to 1 cm from the root, then place them next to one another (not touching) in a tray filled with dampened sterile/clean river sand. Layer the sand and carrots singly. The tray is sealed and stored in a cool, frost-free (and I suppose dark) place. – I have not tried this yet, because I am not sure where to get sand appropriate for this.

More practically, you can blanch the carrots. After blanching dry the carrots – make sure they are dry (leave for a few hours to dry) and then store in the refrigerator – or else you’ll have mushy carrots when you cook them from not-properly-dried-before-frozen carrots 😞. Alternatively if you cannot wait for them to dry completely, pop the carrots into the microwave with a plastic sieve and that should drain away most of the excess moisture preventing too-soggy carrots!

 

Sort term storage: Fresh carrots can be kept at room temperature for 2 days, after 2 days at room temperature or just a day in the fridge, they start to shrivel. Vacuum packing carrots with a few drops of water, allows them to keep for up to a week in the fridge. The best place for short-term storage of carrots, is to just leave it in the ground until needed.

 

Seed Collection & Storage

Carrots flower during their second ‘summer’ in the ground. This can be in the same year (As our year in SA is flanked by summer and spring – Summer in Jan-Mar and Spring in Sep-Dec). The carrots stored in sand can be replanted in spring and will flower 😃. Flowers can be pollinated by butterflies, beetles, bees and flies.

Carrot flowers Daucus carota
Carrot Flowers

Carrot varieties will cross-pollinate (such as yellow x purple, round x globe ect). So cover the flowers with netting/fleece and hand pollinate those you desire to be ‘pure bred’. The seeds are ready for collection after they have dried and the flower stem has become brittle.

 

The seeds are then placed in water at 50oC (112oF) for 15-20 minutes to kill any seed-borne disease, dried and stored in a labelled glass jar.

 

My carrots:

I only plant the Starke Ayres Kudora, which is an orange, long rooted and straight carrot. They produce large roots and are heat-resistant with a good germination/emergence percentage.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Carrot: How to Grow – Vegetable of the Month

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s