The Q&A Archives: Growing Carrots

Question: My carrots grew well, but they are not particularly sweet and are thickly covered with root "hairs." What is causing this? Do you have any pointers for growing carrots?

Answer: Carrots need a stone-free, deeply worked soil that drains well. During early stages of growth, the carrot's taproot must meet no resistance in the soil. If a root meets a rock or hard clay, it will branch or simply stop growing.

Carrots produce best in a raised bed. Till the soil to a depth of at least 8 inches, adding plenty of compost but no manure unless it is well rotted. Excess nitrogen causes branching and hairy, fiberous roots. Potassium promotes solid, sweet carrots. Carrots are cool-weather vegetables, so start sowing about two weeks before the last expected frost in your area. Make successive plantings every three weeks until July. Furrows should be about 3/4 inch deep and 4 inches apart.

One planting method is to place a half-inch layer of sifted peat moss in the bottom of each furrow, sow the seeds sparingly on top, then cover with about a quarter inch of peat moss. To help germination, cover the beds with burlap bags kept soaking wet until the carrots sprout. Remove the bags and water the beds daily until the seedlings are well established. Mulch with clean straw.

The first few weeks after sowing determine the size of your crop. Carrots can't tolerate a deep planting in a dry bed, so the trick is to offer them a shallow sowing with even moisture. The seedlings grow slowly and can't compete with weeds. Hand weeding is recommended until the carrots are 2 inches tall. Thin the carrots to 3 inches apart then mulch with chopped leaves, pine needles, and compost to keep the weeds at bay. Mulching also helps the soil retain moisture and prevents "green shoulder," which is caused by exposing the crowns of the carrots to the sun, making the roots bitter.

Most carrots can be harvested in less than three months. The largest carrots will have the darkest, greenest tops, but don't leave the roots in the ground too long or they will be tough. Most are at their prime when about an inch in diameter at the crown.

When harvesting, drench the bed with water first, making the carrots easier to pull. When you find a carrot large enough, grasp the greens at the crown and tug gently with a twisting motion. If the greens snap off, carefully lift the roots with a spading fork. Use damaged roots right away and store unblemished ones.

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