Carrots are one of the most popular homegrown root vegetables. The variety of carrot types is staggering, with options offering various sizes, shapes and colors. There are short and stubby ones, long skinny ones, even blood-red varieties. Popular types include Danver's, Scarlet Nantes and Little Fingers.
For carrots to develop long, straight roots, they require deep, sandy loam soil that is free of stones. Raised beds provide the ideal growing environment for carrots. Work plenty of compost, sand and wood ash into the top 8" of soil. Wood ash contains soluble potassium which will help grow solid, sweet carrots. If the soil tends to be acidic, add a bit of lime.
Carrots are cool-weather vegetables, so they should be planted in early spring or late summer. With a finger, etch a shallow 1/2"-deep furrow into the garden soil. Space rows at least 1' apart from each other. Sprinkle approximately 15 seeds per row foot. It is okay if they are very close together as they will be thinned out later on. Carefully cover the seeds with soil and water well with a gentle spray. Use garden markers to indicate the location and type of carrot grown. For continual harvests, plant additional rows two weeks later.
Since carrot seeds germinate very slowly, some gardeners mix in a few radish seeds, which sprout quickly and mark the location of the rows.
Carrot seeds must be kept moist to germinate. Lightweight row covers help keep moisture in while still allowing sunlight to pass through. Remove the cover as soon as you notice any seedlings beginning to sprout. When the seedlings reach 2" tall, thin to one plant every 4" to 6" by carefully snipping off the foliage at ground level with shears. Pulling them can harm nearby plants.
Carrots prefer slightly damp soil. Make sure they receive 1" of water per week from rain or by watering. Uniform watering is important for good root growth. Add a generous layer of mulch around the base of the plants to preserve moisture and keep down weeds. Apply a liquid fertilizer made from one tablespoon of fish emulsion mixed into one gallon of water. As the carrot roots grow up and out of the soil, protect them from direct sunlight by mounding soil over them.
Carrots should be ready for harvest between 60 and 80 days after sowing. One way to judge when a carrot is ready to be harvested is by its color, the brighter the better. Most varieties are best when they reach 1" diameter at the crown. Harvest by loosening the soil around the root with a small spade before pulling it up by the greens. There is no need to harvest all carrots at once as most will stay fine in the ground for weeks. If cold weather is in the forecast, cover them well with mulch for protection.