The World of Carrots

Spring is the time for planting seeds, and carrots should be high on your list. Carrots are a versatile crop. They can be eaten raw right out of the garden, shredded into salads, sauteed in stir fries, chopped into casseroles and soups, or juiced for a quick vitamin boost.

In a small bed you can raise a whole bushel of carrots that can be stored into the winter. Although carrot seeds are very tiny and take awhile to germinate, once they are up and growing, they are fairly carefree. Unless a mouse or Bugs Bunny gets into your patch, they're relatively pest-free as well.

Here are some of the best carrot varieties, and tips for a plentiful harvest.

Carrot Types

Carrots are often grouped by shape. Chantenays, such as 'Chantenay Red-Core', are stocky, with broad shoulders and tapered roots. The bountiful tops make these carrots easy to pull.

Imperator carrots, such as 'Imperator 58', are known for their long, thin roots, deep orange color, and long storage life.

Nantes types, such as 'Scarlet Nantes', have a nearly perfect cylindrical shape and a sweet taste that makes them great for juicing.

Danvers carrots, such as 'Danvers 126', are bright orange, with roots tapered to a point. They have a rich flavor, good texture, and store well.

Baby carrots are either long and thin, such as 'Little Finger', or short and round, such as 'Thumbelina'. These small roots mature quickly and grow well in hard-packed soils or containers.

For more on carrot varieties, go here.

Colorful Carrots

Not all carrots are orange. Carrots originated in South Asia, and these ancestors are red, purple, white, and yellow. With the interest in heirloom vegetables, many new colorful varieties are being bred using these original varieties. Some new, colorful carrots include 'Nutri-Red', 'Purple Dragon', and 'Yellowstone'.

Seeding & Thinning

The toughest part of growing carrots is getting started. To prepare a spot for carrots, make a raised bed and remove any large sticks, stones, and clods of soil. Obstructions in the soil can cause carrot roots to be stunted. Rake the top of the bed smooth and lightly broadcast carrot seed on the soil surface so there are approximately 3 to 4 seeds per square inch of bed. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of potting soil or sand, and moisten the bed. In sunny, hot areas, you may want to put a shade cloth over the bed to prevent it from drying out. Keep moist and within two weeks the seedlings should emerge.

Two weeks after germination, thin the carrots to 2 inches apart. Thin a second time four weeks after germination to 4 inches apart. This will give the carrot roots enough room to spread out and size up. Don't try to transplant the carrot thinnings; they won't make it.

Growing to Maturity

Being a root crop, carrots love phosphorus fertilizer. Before planting, amend the soil with compost and a fertilizer high in phosphorus, such as 5-10-5. A soil test will help you determine how much fertilizer to add.

Carrots don't compete well with weeds, so take the time to hand weed the bed early in the season. It may be meticulous work, but it will pay off once the carrots fill in the bed.

Keep the planting well watered, making sure the water soaks down 6 to 8 inches into the soil. Once the carrot tops have matured, you can cut back on watering.

When to Harvest

Although carrots can be harvested anytime after the roots have formed, they will taste the sweetest if allowed to mature to full size for the particular variety. Baby carrots will mature within 60 days after seeding. Most other varieties mature between 60 and 80 days after seeding.

Once mature, carrots can be left in the ground until you're ready to eat them. However, if you have mice or voles around, beware. They can munch away at your carrot roots while the tops look unaffected. If you suspect mice damage, pull and store the carrots in a cool basement or refrigerator. If you have rabbits in the area, protect the tops with a floating row cover or fence.


Peppers and Epsom Salts

Q. I have been told that pouring dissolved epsom salts on or around my peppers will help produce thicker peppers and more plentiful harvests. Is this true?

A. Epsom salts is a source of magnesium, which is one of the 16 nutrients that all plants require. Magnesium is needed in small amounts, and most soils have sufficient magnesium for most crops. However, peppers do seem to thrive with some extra, so unless a soil test indicates that your soil is already high in the nutrient, mix 1 tablespoon of epsom salts with 1 gallon of water. When the pepper plants flower, spray the foliage with the mixture or water the plants with it. Repeat this application after first fruit set. To test the theory, you can compare some epsom salt-treated and untreated plants and see if it makes a difference in your garden.

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