Carrots are one vegetable that is often overlooked by novice gardeners. While it’s true that growing them is not as straightforward as cherry tomatoes or sugar snap peas, carrots are still a great crop for gardeners of every skill level.
But the best part is that this holds true no matter where your garden is. With the right tips, carrots can perform just as well in containers as they do in in-ground gardens.
In this article, we’ll look at the benefits of growing carrots in containers as well as those of growing these root veggies in the ground. Then we’ll walk you through planting and growing carrots using 8 simple steps and share with you our favorite recipes for using up your harvest.
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Why You Should Grow Carrots
There are a ton of great reasons to add carrots to your garden rotation. Not only are they fairly easy to grow once you know what to do, but they are awesomely nutritious and easy to incorporate into your cooking.
Compared to radishes and herbs, carrots are a bit trickier to grow. But they are far from the hardest vegetable to find success with. Moreover, there are now hundreds of heirloom species available, many with characteristics that make them easier to deal with when growing in less desirable situations.
Carrots are also incredibly nutritious. They are an excellent source of beta carotene, vitamin K1, potassium, and fiber. All varieties, but especially red and purple cultivators, are loaded with antioxidants that help the body fight inflammation and disease.
A diet that includes carrots is associated with a lower risk of many cancers. And eating carrots frequently can help support eye health, reduce high blood pressure, and improve weight loss.
Lastly, carrots are one of the easiest vegetables to incorporate into your cooking. They can be used raw, steamed, boiled, baked, roasted, and juiced! From finger snacks to salads and pasta, all the way to dessert, there are thousands of ways to use your carrot harvest.
Recently, we’ve been experimenting with some delicious ways to mix carrots and ginger. This flavor combination, as any chef in Asia can tell you, is so perfectly satisfying.
As long as you have the knife skills to match, there’s no limit to how you can use carrots in the kitchen.
The Benefits of Growing Carrots in Pots
When you’re trying to grow a veggie whose edible bits exist completely beneath the soil, it would seem like planting them in a garden with unlimited depth would be the best option. But the truth is, planting carrots in containers might actually increase your harvest while saving you loads of work.
For one, well-structured and picturesque root veggies require well-tilled, rock-free soil to grow. Any hard clumps of clay or debris that get in the way of your tuber will result in malformed carrots. And poor soil can even affect the nutrient profile of your carrots.
The issue of bad soil is easily remedied by using containers filled with organic commercial potting soil. These prepared soils are free from rocks and other large debris and perfectly mixed to allow water and nutrients to move freely.
In addition to saving you work with soil prep, planting your carrots in containers will also help avoid some of the diseases that often plague this plant. Soil dwelling weevils and other bug larvae often snack on carrots while they grow. By putting your carrots in pots, you can easily protect them from these nasty pests.
Other common diseases such as those brought by fungus and bacteria are also less common in potted plants, assuming you are diligent about thinning your crop to increase airflow around the greens.
As long as you have the proper setup and follow a few simple tips, planting carrots in pots is actually less work than putting these root veggies in your garden beds.
The Benefits of Growing Carrots in the Ground
While using containers to grow carrots makes it easier to care for them and produce picturesque results, in-ground carrot growing isn’t without its own advantages.
For one, using an in-ground or raised bed provides much more space than a pot.
Compared to other plants, carrots don’t really need much space. They grow upright and can be planted fairly close together. But, each plant only produces a single vegetable, which means you need to plant a lot more of them to get a usable harvest.
A large bed allows you the space to plant enough carrots to keep harvesting them by the bushel all spring long.
Planting in the ground also gives you space for companion planting. Carrots are prone to damage by many pests, even when grown in containers.
Companion planting along with alliums, tomatoes, marigolds, and other strong-scented plants helps keep these pests away. In pots, you simply do not have room for companion planting.
8 Simple Tips for Growing Carrots
Carrots are an easy, fun veggie to grow for gardeners of all ages and experience levels. But if you want a generous crop of sweet and crunchy roots, you’ll want to read through these eight tips before you get started.
1. Choose a Sunny Location
The vast majority of carrot varieties need at least six hours of full sun to grow well. For pots and garden beds, you’ll want to choose a south or west-facing location.
Do keep in mind, though, that carrots are cool-season plants. If working with pots, you can easily move them to a slightly shadier location once it gets hotter toward the end of the spring season.
For garden beds, plant as early as possible. In late spring, companion plant with squash or other tall summer vegetables to the south side to provide extra shade.
2. Select the Right Carrot Variety
There are limitless options when it comes to carrot varieties.
For container planting, you’ll want to focus on those types that tend to be smaller and rounder. It is possible to grow more traditional long carrots in a pot, but you will need a much deeper container if you go that route. We recommend sticking to the fun heirloom varieties that tend to be smaller and come in a number of beautiful and nutritious colors.
For in-ground beds, you have a lot more choices. If planting a lot of carrots, we recommend choosing multiple varieties with different maturity rates to extend your harvest into the summer.
3. Choose a Deep Container or Bed
While it’s possible to plant carrots straight in the ground, raised beds or containers often provide better results. These options allow you to easily break up the soil for smooth results. Or replace it completely if it’s gotten compact.
In ground beds, on the other hand, require tilling to break up compact soil. If this isn’t done well, carrots tend to experience growth problems that result in twisted, stumpy, or otherwise funny looking final products.
When it comes to how deep a planter box needs to be to grow carrots, it really depends on the type of carrot you’ve chosen. Typically, you’ll want a container that’s about twice as deep as the mature size of your carrot variety. For most options, a 12-inch deep pot will work. But for longer carrots, you may be better off choosing a larger, deeper tub-type planter.
You should also assure your container has plenty of drainage holes to avoid soggy soil that can lead to root rot. Fill your containers with organic potting soil that is premixed for optimal moisture retention.
4. Plant Your Seeds Before the Last Freeze
Because carrots are a cool-season plant, you’ll want to get your seeds in the soil before the last freeze so they’ll germinate just as spring takes over.
If you live in a colder climate with unpredictable springs or long winters, container gardening may be the best way to go. This is because you can start your carrots early but bring them inside if the weather gets too cold after they germinate.
If you plant in a garden bed, use row covers to protect your seedlings until they’re mature enough to handle freezing weather or until the threat of freezing temperatures has passed.
5. Thin Your Crop
Once your seedlings are about an inch or two, it’s time to thin out the crop. This is important for the health of your plants since overcrowding reduces airflow and breeds disease. And also to assure you get plenty of well-structured carrots come harvest time.
Reference your seed packet for the exact specifications on space requirements. Try to target the smallest and weakest seedlings first. Thinning your crop slowly over the course of a couple of weeks is a good way to assure you leave only the healthiest plants behind.
- Pro Tip: Instead of pulling unwanted seedlings out, use a pair of scissors to clip them off at the base. This will assure the roots of nearby sprouts aren’t disturbed.
6. Water and Feed Frequently
How often you need to water and feed depends on many factors, including whether you’re working with pots or in-ground beds.
As is usually the case when growing veggies in containers, frequent watering is a must. You want to keep the soil moist without over watering or allowing it to dry out. Early in the season, you may be able to get away with watering every other day, but as the days heat up, you’ll want to check your soil every day and water as needed.
All that watering will leach nutrients from your soil, so expect to have to fertilize about every three to four weeks. Choose a low nitrogen, organic fertilizer to keep the roots growing well and the greens at a more modest size.
In-ground carrots won’t need to be watered as often. A good rule of thumb is to water deeply once the top of the soil has dried out.
Fertilizing will also be less frequent. Start with a mix of organic garden soil and compost at a ratio of four parts soil to one part compost when you plant the seeds. Then fertilize with a homemade compost tea every month for optimal growth once the seedlings have established.
7. Harvest When the Root Is Visible
How long carrots take to grow depends on the variety you choose. But you can expect most types to be ready to harvest around 75 days after germination.
Look for the tops of the carrots to be visible just above the soil as a good indication that it’s time to harvest. Start by just picking a few plants from different areas in the pot or plot to assure the carrots have fully matured before pulling all the plants up.
8. Sow a Second Crop
In many climates, it’s possible to sow a second crop of carrots to harvest just before the first freeze in late autumn.
For short-seasoned latitudes, plant a new round of seeds immediately after picking your first crop. For warmer climates, you may need to wait a month before starting again. In either case, protect your seedlings from the harsh summer sun by using shade fabric or, if using pots, moving them to a shadier location.
How to Use Your Homegrown Carrots
Once you have your beautiful, colorful carrots out of the ground and into the kitchen, you have endless options of how to use them.
Of course, nothing beats a crunchy, raw carrot fresh from the soil, but there are also endless ways to cook carrots that you may grow to love even more. Try roasting your carrots with other root veggies and some onions for a tasty treat.
Or saute them up with a selection of other spring veggies in a delectable stir fry. You can even incorporate this nutritious root vegetable into a number of desserts and snacks.
Of course, one of the great things about carrots and other root veggies is how easily they store. If you find yourself with an extra-large harvest, cut the greens off the top and place the carrots in a container and cover with water. Keep them in the fridge out of the light and swap out the water about once a week to keep them fresh and crisp.
Here are a few of our favorite carrot-centric recipes that will help you use up your harvest: