April 18, 1997

Carrots are one of those staple crops that every gardener grows. They are not fussy, except perhaps when getting them to germinate, and most folks already know of a carrot that does reasonably well in their garden. So why did I pick this topic? Well, perhaps there's still one or two things to learn about growing carrots.

There are five main types of carrots: Imperator, nantes, danvers, chantenay, and planet. These are listed in reverse order of their tolerance to heavy soils (and, not coincidentally, in order from the most tender to the toughest). Imperator carrots are the very long narrow ones you find in cello-packs at the grocery store; they demand extremely deep, sandy soils. Nantes types are very tender, and stay roughly the same diameter from the top down to their blunt tip. Nantes carrots will only grow satisfactorily in good loose soil. Danvers are somewhat more conical, and a bit tougher; they are a common choice for silt-clay garden plots. Chantenay are also cone shaped, with a wide top tapering rapidly down to a point. People who garden on clay often grow them. The planet carrots are a newer development. They don't develop much of a root at all; instead, they make a somewhat round root that is at the top of the soil. Planet types were developed for the heaviest soils. They also are a good choice for the first spring planting; they mature fast, and since they don't require the loose soil other carrots demand, planet carrots can be sown earlier.

This member of the family Apiaceae (Umbelliferae) is, like most of its cousins, undemanding in its fertilizer requirements. As a matter of fact, too much fertilizer can promote top-growth at the expense of root development. It can also cause the roots to be excessively "hairy". Another problem, especially if you use organic fertilizers, is that the roots may tend to develop forks, since fresh organic fertilizers often tend towards chunkiness (more on this later). If you have decent garden soil, and have a bed that was amended or fertilized the year before, that is a good place for this year's carrot crop. Don't add any more fertilizer; they really don't need it.

Here is the single best piece of advice I can give you on carrot culture: Grow them in raised beds. Remember how I said chunks of fertilizer can cause forking? Well, any rock or bit of compacted soil can do the same thing. The carrot seedling puts down a tender taproot very early in life; in uncompacted soil, that taproot will be long and straight. In "regular" soil, that taproot will often run into an obstacle, which causes it to split into two or more roots. Using a raised bed keeps your feet far away from the carrots! I have known people who, in pursuit of the perfect carrot, dig up their carrot bed and sift the dirt through a window screen! You needn't go that far; wait until the soil is fairly dry, then break it up with a spading fork. Be thorough, and try to get down 10-12 inches. This isn't that much work, and you'll be surprised at how much better your carrots grow! In my silt-clay soil, I've found I can grow nantes-type carrots following these principles. Back when I grew in long flat rows, I had to stick to danvers or chantenay types.

A quick trick to help even out your carrot seed germination. Sow them (thinly!) in shallow rows across a raised bed. Then, instead of covering them back up with dirt, put a light layer of seed starting mix (or potting soil, or sifted compost) on top of the carrots. These mixes are designed to be light, and to retain water. In addition, they will not crust the way garden soil often does.

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This page was last updated November 18, 2013