This year’s harvest.

Carrots are one of the first things beginning gardeners want to plant. Nothing says garden success like a handful of carrots pulled fresh from the ground, dirt still clinging to their orange roots! And if you look at gardening books, you learn that carrots are a cool season crop, meaning they can take a frost. And so gardeners are encouraged to plant carrots up to 4 weeks before your last frost. Around here, that would mean early April.

But carrots are also one of the vegetables most beginning gardeners have a hard time with. I don’t know how many times I’ve talked gardening with friends, and they have said, “I planted carrots. But they never came up.” I wrote a whole blog post way back in 2012 on how I used to plant carrots. It was all about doing a scatter method for seeding, and keeping the seeds damp using burlap. This is a great method for raised bed gardening.

Carrots for market, 2015

Well, a lot has changed in 8 years. I stopped growing carrots for market. (Well, truth be told, I pretty much stopped growing ANY vegetable that I have to wash and bunch before selling. The labor wasn’t worth the return. So now I focus primarily on peppers, tomatoes, onions/garlic/shallots and a few brassicas). I started using an Earthway Wheel Planter more. And I accidentally figured out that while you CAN plant carrots 4 weeks before your last frost date, and water twice a day, and keep mulched with burlap, and wait and wait and wait for the seeds to come up….that its WAY better if you just wait to plant until the soil warms up!

Carrot germination temperatures, compliments of Johnny’s Seeds

The problem with planting carrots in the early spring is that the soil is still very cold. Definitely below the optimum of 68 to 77 degrees. This year I started my carrots on May 23rd. Last year I started them on June 4th! I used the Earthway carrot seed plate, ran two rows next to drip tape, and then watered them with the drip tape every day or every other day, or even every third day, while mostly ignoring them. No mulch. And you know what? They germinated within a week. Because the SOIL WAS WARM.

I then weeded them a couple of times when they were small, just so they weren’t out competed by grass and weeds. Having them in rows means I can use the stirrup hoe in between the rows. I don’t bother thinning. AT ALL! I know!? Crazy! And I’ve had great carrot crops both years (except for the ones the gophers ate). Some were large. Some were smaller where they were closer together. A few were tangled together or were “character carrots” as a friend calls them, with forks and other interesting features. But about 90% were edible with a whole lot less work and fuss.

A few got rather large. I suspect this is Danver’s Half Long. My carrot seed is a mish mash of varieties that I’ve grown over the years, all mixed together.)

Carrots are generally around 70 days to early maturity. That’s just over 2 months. What IS our hurry that we insist on planting them so early in the spring? I’m OK if I don’t have fresh carrots in June. Especially because they store so well that I’m often still eating carrots from the previous year in the spring. This year, other than a few I pulled out here and there, I harvested the entire crop on September 19th, 17 weeks (119 days) after planting. Carrots hold really well in the ground. You don’t have to harvest them right away.

Rainbow carrots LOOK gorgeous, but honestly, I like the flavor of the orange ones the best, so I stopped growing the rest.

Washed and sorted, I probably harvested 80 lbs worth of carrots this year. About 20 lbs of those had “character” and I lost about 10 ft of the row to gophers. I’ve been gifting carrots to friends and will store them through the winter in an extra refrigerator, checking and resorting them a few times as needed to remove any that start to get soft spots. I juice any split ones, freezing the juice in ice cube trays to add to smoothies and soap, and we use up the character carrots first. I used my last carrot grown in 2019 in September 2020. Not kidding. They lasted me an ENTIRE year in storage and they still looked good (which is why I wasn’t in any hurry to get this year’s crop out of the ground).

A one carrot meal!

So, I’ve given up the lunacy of thinking I MUST plant carrots in early spring. I highly recommend you try planting a crop about when you plant your peppers and beans instead. My favorite variety is Scarlet Nantes, for flavor and for resistance to splitting when the moisture level fluctuates.

You can never have too many oven roasted carrots (slice into 1″ pieces and toss in olive oil and salt. Roast, covered with tin foil, in a 425 degree oven on a sheet pan for 15 minutes. Remove tin foil and roast for anther 15 minutes. Stir and roast another 15 minutes. Ambrosia). And this is a great time of year for this vegetarian carrot/sage pasta dish as well.

I also make a lovely carrot buttermilk baby soap from our carrots.

© 2020 Miles Away Farm, where we’re miles away from wanting to go back to washing and bunching carrots for farmers markets, but can’t imagine giving them up completely.