Carrots

I bet we get through thousands of the things over the course of a year — carrots are a homestead essential.

These roots are a superb, simple-to-add nutritious addition to almost any meal–even desserts!–as they’re packed with beta carotene, fiber, vitamin K1, potassium and antioxidants.

The green tops can also be used, working great in a salad (if you don’t mind a little chew), as a delicious pesto, and also sauteed in salted butter to have on toast or the like.

The carrots that we grow are the heirloom varieties “Nantes 2” and “Chantonnay”. Heirloom varieties are key if you plan on saving your own seed (more on that later), not to mention they’re healthier and they taste better.


Sowing And Growing Carrots

Carrot seeds are notorious for their poor germination rate. On top of that, they will often take 14-21 days to sprout (depending on conditions).

Sowing should be done direct (outside) as carrots do not fair well when transplanted. Doing so will result in poor, stunted growth.

Carrots grow best in cooler temperatures.

Ideally, overnight temps should climb no higher than 13C (55F) with daytime highs averaging less than 24C (75F). However–and as should be the motto of this website–try things out, see what your area/soil/conditions lets you get away with. There are no set rules when it comes to growing.

We have very hot summers here in Central Portugal, and carrots simply do not grow in our 40+C (104+F) heat (I’ve tried my best).

However, we are fortunate enough to have a very long growing season, which allows us two carrot harvests per year. The first we sow in early-Feb (after the threat of frost has passed)–ready by late-spring; and the second is sown in late-summer (once the fierce heat has subsided)–ready November-onward.

Despite being notoriously difficult to germinate and heat-intolerant, carrots are quick to grow and mature.

Long, well-rounded roots will consistently be achieved so long as you grow in loose, well-draining and fertile soil (growing in heavy/stony soil will result in small, stunted and unevenly shaped carrots).


Spacing

We sow our carrots in rows 20-25 cm ( 8-10 inches) apart.

Seeds are sown thinly along the rows, then covered by a modest layer of homemade compost, and watered in.

A line of organic mulch is prepared alongside the bed, ready to be pull-in around the plants once they’ve reach around 10cm (4 inches) in height.

Note: The official advice states that carrot seeds will be smothered and won’t germinate if a *thick* layer of mulch is added too soon (saying that, I did cover my seeds with a thick layer during my first year of growing, before I knew any better, but still managed a decent-enough germination rate).


Thinning

Another important job to do when the plants are approx. 10 cm (4 inches) tall is ‘thinning’.

While keeping a handful of plants close together is absolutely fine, the biggest of which can be harvested early to allow the others to grow on, it is a good idea not to overcrowd, to give plants enough space to develop fat and healthy roots. A distance of 2.5-5 cm (1-2 inches) between plants/small groups of plants works for us.


Weeding

It is especially important when the carrots are small to keep the patch free from weeds. Undesirable plants springing up in your carrot bed will absorb key nutrients and water, which could result in poor root growth.

A good layer of mulch will assist with this job.

Note: Be careful when weeding and thinning not to disturb the tops. The smell could attract carrot fly. Covering your patch with fleece may be necessary if these pests are particularly prominent in your area.


Harvesting Carrots

Depending on your variety and growing conditions, carrots can take anywhere from 2 to 4 months to fully mature. But you needn’t wait that long, carrot roots can be picked at almost any stage of growth.

Tip: Don’t aim for the largest roots or you’ll sacrifice flavor.

Gently lift carrots from the soil by hand where possible.

If they don’t come up easily then carefully loosen the soil around the roots with a hand fork to avoid doing any damage. Any bruised or forked carrots should be eaten first as these will not store.


Tip: Carrots taste best after a touch of frost has hit.


Overwintering Carrots

One lazy harvesting method (and therefor my favorite) is to simply leave carrots in the ground to overwinter, to harvest as-and-when needed. The cold of winter will kill off the carrot greens, but the roots will keep well under the ground.

This option is possible where winter temperatures don’t dip too low (but I do mean pretty darn low, below -12C (10F). For areas where the occasional deep freeze hits, overwintered carrots will be fine under a layer of mulch.

If garden space is at a premium, harvesting the entire crop for indoor storage will be the best bet.

Note: If you do overwinter your carrots outdoors, be sure to harvest them early the next season. With the arrival of spring will come new sprouting tops, which will cause the roots to become woody and inedible.

Also note: Carrots that have been overwintered will not store well and should be eaten quickly.


Storing Carrots

Be sure to remove the carrot tops before storing, leaving the greens attached will draw moisture/flavor from the roots and they won’t keep as long.

You can brush off any excess soil, but do not wash the carrots as the dirt acts as protection from bacteria.

An online search will give a slew of over-complicated methods for storing the roots, but the best option we’ve found, which again is the simplest (after overwintering), is to store carrots in wooden crates/cardboard boxes stacked in a cool and dark spot mindful of good air circulation and pests (namely rodents).

For us, this spot is in our insulated “slab hut” (aka shed).

The temperature holds pretty consistent in there, particularly during the cooler months — and that’s the only time we need to store carrots for any extended period as our late-spring harvest can easily survive the short, though admittedly extreme, summertime heat.

We looked into root cellars and boxes of sand etc. etc., and maybe the former is something we’ll look into in the future, but storing our carrots with this simple method works well and, most importantly, is completely faff-free.


A Word On Heirlooms

Heirlooms are old-time varieties that produce descendants with the exact same traits planting after planting, season after season, generation after generation. Some heirloom seeds date back hundreds of years, or more.

Saving seeds from a modern hybrid variety, such as you would buy from a garden center, would mean that the second generation you grow isn’t guaranteed to produce the same “true to type” plant, and so in turn fruit.

If seed saving is your aim, which it should be if your goal is to preserve healthier, naturally-pest-resistant and true to type varieties, then having your own heirloom (sometimes called “heritage”) seed vault is essential.

For more on seed-saving from heirloom carrots specifically, click the link below:

Carrot Seed Saving