Growing Colorful Carrots
Most of us are quite familiar with the good old standard orange colored carrots that we have been eating since childhood and which are readily available from the local supermarket or green grocer. Heck your parents may even have grown them in your veggie patch at home when you were growing up or you may have been involved in growing them in your kitchen garden at school.
If you thought this was the only type of carrots you can grow in your organic vegetable garden, then think again. Carrots come in a variety of colors such as white, yellow, crimson and purple and are commonly referred to as rainbow or kaleidoscope carrots.
Seeds or Seedlings
It is recommended that you go with seeds rather than seedlings, as carrot seedlings are usually hard to come by and you get a better choice of carrot types if you use seeds. Before purchase the seeds make sure the seed packet is not out of date and preferably fresh and not from previous seasons.
There are a number of different varieties of carrots from which you can make your selection.
Nantes carrots are reportedly quick to grow and more likely to be trouble free than other varieties. They also have the ability to adapt to a range of climate conditions and soil types and will grow well in dense shallow soils. When harvested you will notice that they are very sweet and crunchy. They have the appearance of being blunt and tubular and usually grow from 6 to 9 inches (15 – 23cm) in size.
On the other hand, Chantenay carrots which also do well in similar soil conditions to that of Nantes carrots, have stocky roots that develop a lovely sweetness as the soil becomes cooler during fall/autumn.
Another variety of carrots that are quite popular to grow are that of the miniature or baby carrots. These too are frequently very sweet and grow well in heavy soils.
The long thin orange colored carrots that are sold in green grocers and supermarkets are known as Imperator carrots. This variety grows best in loose sandy soil that drains well. Whatever variety of carrot/s you decide to grow you need to ensure they get at least 6 hours of sunshine each day.
Preparing the Soil
If your soil is compact or contains too much clay you will need to amend it to make it suitable for growing carrots successfully. This is achieved by mixing in quality organic matter such as compost, manure or sand or a mixture of all, sufficient to make it more loose and friable.
It is probably wise to use a soil testing kit to make sure the pH of your soil is around 6.5. If you soil it too acidic your carrots will wilt and more than likely die off or at best provide you with a poor quality harvest. Once you have your fresh organic packet of seeds ready to plant you will need to cultivate the soil to a depth of no less than 8 inches (20 cm) getting rid of any clumpy or lumpy soil otherwise the growth of your carrots will be impeded
When to Plant
Carrots are considered to be a cool season crop and should be planted in early spring after the last severe frost if you live in a region susceptible to frosts. Don’t be alarmed if you experience light frosts are you have planted your carrot seeds as this should not cause any harm.
If you are keen on growing baby carrots it is recommended that you plant these seeds in late summer for a harvest in autumn/fall.
How to Plant your Carrot Seeds
It is ideal if you place the seeds in rows about 12-18 inches (30 – 46 cm) apart with the actual seeds ½ inch (1.25 cm) in the garden bed with 2 to 3 seeds per inch (2.5cm).
This will take about 2 weeks for the seeds to germinate. To guard against overcrowding make sure you thin out the seedlings once they are about 2 inches (5cm) high. Carrots need to be spaced approximately 3 inches (7.6cm) apart to enable healthy growth.
Taking Care of your Carrot Plants
In order for your plants to grow and thrive it is important that you take good care of them by making sure the soil is kept moist. If there is no rainfall during a week you will need to water them well giving them a good soak at the base of the plant. Try not to wet the stem and leaves. If you have had a decent amount of rain just check to make sure the soil is sufficiently moist and if so you won’t have to water that week.
It is vital that you keep on top of any weeds that appear amongst your carrot plants. If you leave these unattended and do not remove promptly they will choke the life blood out of your plants by sucking up all the nutrients and moisture and will more than likely damage the roots. In order to keep weeds under control you need to mulch the garden bed when the plants are sufficiently mature. A light till between plants will also reduce the growth of weeds.
In order to ensure a healthy crop at harvest time you need to guard against pests invading your plants. Carrot leaf blights cause leaves to yellow, curl, dry out and eventually die off. If infestation occurs earlier enough the plants will not mature. What you need to do to avoid this happening is not to overcrowd your plants, make sure you don’t water the leaves and guard against excessive nitrogen in the soil. If this occurs there will be too much leaf growth which will prevent adequate airflow to the plants.
Other significant pests include carrot rust fly and wire worms which can ruin your crop if not dealt with promptly and effectively. We will discuss this more thoroughly in a future post.
When to Harvest Carrots
On the whole carrots usually mature between 60 to 80 days. However, this is determined by the variety of carrots grown.