Homegrown heirloom carrots taste like no other carrot you’ve tried before. They are simply bursting with flavor and are packed with nutrients. Heirloom carrots are a wonderful addition to your fall home garden. They thrive in the cool weather, and they are easy and fun to grow. By following a few simple tips, you can enjoy an abundant carrot harvest this fall.
The Right Soil Is Important
Your carrots will need loose and even soil to stretch out and grow. Make sure your soil is free of rocks or clumps or other obstructions. If you have heavy soil, you should double-till it and consider adding in a healthy amount of compost. This is especially important for clay soils. Use approximately 2 pounds of compost for every square foot. Mix it in as deeply as you can.
When to Plant
Carrots are a cool weather crop. In the fall, sow your seeds approximately 6 weeks before your area’s first fall frost. In Zones 8 and up, you can sow carrots through the fall and winter.
How to Plant
Before planting, water the area where you will plant thoroughly. Then, plant your carrot seeds in rows about 1/4 inch deep and about 1/2 apart. Space your rows 6-12 inches apart. It can be difficult to evenly sow such small seeds, so consider using a hand-held seeding tool.
Carrot seeds take awhile to germinate and can wash away easily, even days after planting. Cover them with compost (not soil) to keep them from washing away.
TIP: Radishes grow well alongside carrots and can help mark the space between your rows of carrots until the carrots germinate and emerge from the soil. The radishes will also help to suppress weeds between rows.
After germination, thin your seedlings as needed. When tops are about 2 inches high, thin them again to allow each carrot to be about 2 inches apart. Carrots will NOT grow if they are overcrowded, so don’t be shy with your thinning.
Other Growing Tips
Your carrots will need to be watered daily, at least at first. When hand watering them, do so gently until they are established in order to avoid washing away your seeds. As carrots become established you can water a little less, but do not let your soil dry out. At the same time, do not risk overwatering your carrots. Overwatering will lead to split carrots and overall less flavor. Soaker hoses are a good option for watering carrots.
Weed your carrots regularly. They cannot compete with weeds, especially deep ones.
After you have thinned your carrots for the last time, mulch them. This helps keep moisture in and also will help protect the roots from exposure to sun. Carrot shoulders or roots exposed to the sun will turn green.
Carrots are not heavy feeders, so go easy on the fertilizer, if you use it at all. Too much nitrogen can cause your roots to split open. Carrots prefer rich compost in the soil over an application of fertilizer.
Split carrots happen for a variety of reasons. Too much heat, too much fertilizer, dry soil, and uneven watering are just a few factors that cause your carrots to crack and break open.
How To Harvest
When you think you are ready to harvest, you can easily check the size of the carrot root. Poke into the soil with your finger to check the carrot size, and determine if you are ready to pull and eat! If you are not ready to harvest yet, simply put the soil and mulch back in place to keep the carrot covered. Check again in a few days.
To harvest, pull your carrot out by hand – but please, do pull gently. If needed, you can use a fork to loosen up the soil before pulling. Harvest one at a time, a few at a time, or all at once. The choice is yours. However, you will probably want to dig them all up before the ground freezes, unless you plan to overwinter them. (See below.)
Carrots can be stored in the winter in a root cellar. You can also overwinter them in a garden bed that is heavily mulched – but the garden bed MUST be well-drained. Carrots will rot in cold and wet soil. When temperatures drop to 20 degrees, cover them with 1 foot of straw or leaves and then cover with a plastic sheet. (Note: Overwintering carrots is not a fool-proof method. Success will depend on several factors: Your soil quality, soil drainage, and the intensity of your winter climate. Perhaps a little bit of luck?)
Carrots will also store well in the fridge and can also be preserved by canning, pickling, drying, or freezing.