Saturday, June 06, 2009

Gardening How To:
Growing and Thinning (and Weeding!) Heirloom Carrots

Looking to learn about growing carrots? You'll find links to two more of my carrot growing posts and a recipe for carrot herb rolls, along with all sorts of other things I like to grow, below.

Extreme baby vegetables (harvested on 5/28)

The first year I gardened in Missouri I tried growing carrots, didn't get very good results, and gave up—despite the fact that I usually consume at least one raw carrot a day. I continued to order one or two varieties of carrot seeds every couple of years, but except for a really old packet of seeds that I scattered during an ambitious and hopeful fall planting campaign in August 2006 (which were, not suprisingly, all no-shows) they never seemed to make it into the ground.

With good organic, U.S. grown carrots available year round for under a dollar a pound at the supermarket, homegrown carrots simply weren't a big priority. But deep down, I knew I was missing out. So this year to compensate I went a little overboard.
Back on April 11th, I sowed six varieties of heirloom carrot seeds (saving some of each kind for fall planting) in one of my 4'x8' raised garden beds: St. Valery (from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds), Parisienne (Baker Creek), Little Finger (Baker Creek), Atomic Red (Baker Creek), Scarlet Nantes (Botanical Interests), and Red Cored Chantenay (Pinetree Garden Seeds). I chose a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. I'm especially excited about the red ones.

So far they're all doing great—and so are the weeds (that would be the big pile on the left).

In The Vegetable Gardener's Bible (my favorite garden book, which I highly recommend for kitchen gardeners of all levels), author Ed Smith says that "thinning carrots, like sowing them, is best accomplished on days when patience can rule your actions." He's got that right. Talk about a teeth gnashing job, especially when you're also trying to pull out weeds that are twice the size of the carrot seedlings. Ed recommends using floral shears to thin your carrots, but I just pulled them out by hand—one small section at a time.

It's too bad I didn't check the carrot growing section of The All-New Illustrated Guide to Gardening from Reader's Digest (a humongous book packed with over 2,500 color photos & illustrations that I'm finding very informative—and love that the completely updated and revised version is all organic!) until just now, because I really like this idea:

They say to mix a few radish or leaf-lettuce seeds with the carrot seeds "since carrot seeds germinate slowly, and the row may be well defined by weeds long before the carrot tops appear. The radishes and lettuce will sprout quickly and will mark the row. Because they wil be ready long before the carrots are, they will not interfere with the growth of the carrots, and you will also be making more efficient use of your garden space."

These Happy Carrots Have Been Weeded, Thinned, and Mulched

Carrots prefer to have cool roots and warm tops, so mulch them with grass clippings (or freshly pulled weeds or, as seen above, rotting old hay that you pulled off the strawberry bed in March and still have laying around) during the late spring and summer. This will also keep new weeds from sprouting and help retain moisture in the soil—which is why I love mulching so much.

Digging Dogs in the Garden: That Big Empty Spot is Courtesy of Marta (aka Marta Beast)

The Vegetable Gardener's Bible suggests growing a leafy companion crop such as Swiss chard to help shade and cool the soil (Yes! Another reason to help convince you to grow Swiss chard!), so starting at the southern end of the bed, I sowed my seeds in 8-foot long rows like this: one of Swiss chard (two varieties), then three rows of carrots, one of Swiss Chard and Nero di Toscana cabbage (also called dinosaur kale, lacinato kale, and several other things—I love the stuff and refer to it as cat cabbage because I swear it has nine lives). As of right now, it looks like the edible shading scheme is going to work perfectly.

Carrots will grow well close together, but if they're too close they'll end up stunted, too thin, or deformed. You can see that some of the baby carrots in that top photo are already looking a little crooked. I usually like to wait to thin my vegetables (such as lettuce, arugula, beets, and Swiss chard) until the thinnings are large enough to eat, so I'm giving the rest of the carrots a bit more growing more time before I finish thinning them (though I admit I couldn't resist nibbling on these itty bittys—and they were tasty!). Besides, my teeth need a rest from all that gnashing.

Joe used to grow a big patch of carrots each year but said he stopped because they didn't keep well in the root cellar. "Sure, you can store them in sawdust like the books tell you to, and they won't rot," he told me, "but what they don't tell you is that they get all rubbery." I asked him if the sawdust had been damp, which is a detail that nearly all carrot-storing directions I've seen leave out. "It's supposed to be damp?" he said.

Since there used to be a large sawmill on our property back in the 1930s, we have a lifetime supply of free aged sawdust at our disposal—and plenty of sawmills still around if the sawdust needs to be fresh. I'm curious to see how carrots—which I usually buy four or five pounds at a time and store in the refrigerator for weeks—that are kept in damp sawdust in the cool root cellar would keep, but I have a feeling that all of this year's harvest is going to go straight from garden to kitchen to mouth.

Are you growing carrots this year? Do you have any growing tips, favorite varieties, or amusing carrot stories to share?

And the carrot growing continues!
6/13/09: Bigger Red and Orange Baby Carrots
4/27/10: My Favorite Heirloom Carrots (so far) to Grow from Seed: Parisienne
Carrot Herb Rolls (and a beautiful bread book for Beginners)

More posts about some of my favorite things to grow:
Favorite Heirloom Tomatoes to Grow—Mine and Yours

© 2009, the crunch and munch foodie farm blog where getting our daily dose of beta-carotene has never been a problem.


  1. A few weeks ago I pulled a carrot from my garden that accidently overwintered in the soil (I live in western PA). It was still nice and firm but I didn't try eating it as some bug already had. The only carrots I have had success with are the half size danvers.

  2. Great post! I haven't had luck growing carrots either, although I planted some this year and am hoping for better results with the raised beds. My whole garden needs some serious attention.

  3. I'm also growing carrots, my garden blog just started but pictures will be coming soon. I did an oopsie the other day and wanted to see how they were growing only to find out that they were as thin as a pencil's lead. When I put it back, I bent some leaves and also some others. Oopsie! I need to grow patience!!! Thanks for having such a wonderful and informative blog. I'll be back!

  4. This is my first year growing carrots. Actually it's my first year growing anything! The greens are only two inches high so we'll see how well they do.

  5. The carrots look great! I have big plans to grow a wide variety of heirloom carrots this fall, when the temps. are cooler here. I like the tip about planting radishes to mark the rows, and just read someplace that harvesting the radishes will keep the soil loose, which the carrots prefer. Cheers!

  6. I wish I'd had this post a month ago...I think only 4 carrots out of the three rows actually sprouted. I gave up last week and dug all the weeds up. Next round I'll add lettuce in the mix. Thank you for the tip!

  7. I had bad luck with carrots the first time I tried; thick clay soil isn't very conducive to root crops. But now, after several years of adding compost to the soil, I might try a few again.

  8. Great article and practical tips. I'm trying my hand at carrots this year with some small Parmex carrots I ordered from Johnny's. So far they are doing great in our North Alabama soil.

  9. I was THRILLED to see this post. I have also really wanted to grow carrots! Something about the pictures of those things with long sprigs of curly greens on the end completely emulates home gardening! And I haven't had any luck yet. I have checked out the Gardening Bible book you referred to and the carrots page is the page have I read over and over! Because I just really want to grow carrots dang-it! You mention planting more carrots for a fall harvest. Can you give an idea of when you plant carrot seeds for a fall harvest in Missouri? I'm a little farther north than you but probably not much difference in our weather! I even made seed tape this year for carrots, planted them in with the lettuce, but I think my lettuce is choking out the carrots! Aggggghh! I'll keep trying - this is the one vege I am determined to grow! Keep us updated on the progress of yours.
    (I have to tell you one year I planted carrots and what I got was referred to around our house as "barbie carrots" - long greens and very little carrot - I have two daughters, and no sons, so we relate to most things in "girl terms" :)

  10. My raised beds last year did fabulous with carrots. Big and juicy and sweet! They sure do love that loose and rich soil.

    This year I thought I'd be miss smarty pants and interplant them with tomatoes (as another book suggested) since they supposedly will grow faster and be done before the tomatoes shade them.

    Hmmm...well, I have about 200 carrots trying to get a tiny bit of sunlight under 7 foot tall tomato plants.

    This fall I'm going to have to double plant for sure.

    I also did the Scarlet Nantes and St. Valery (Baker's freebie this year) and both were delicious.

  11. Thanks for the tips on growing carrots. I've never been able to do so successfully! Perhaps I'll try again.

  12. I have my first "big time" garden this year--two 3x6 raised beds. It's all new soil so luckily weeds are not an issue.
    I am over thinning already--someone else told me to transplant my crowded mesclun--as if!
    I will painstakingly drop one tiny seed at a time at the allotted distance apart before I do any thinning. I cut carrots that were too close together with tiny scissors.
    I am following square foot gardening plans of 16 per square, a little fewer than that actually, as I am skeptical of that spacing. The spring batch will be my only one until fall, as it gets pretty hot here in Va., but in fall I already have those heirloom round carrots from Botanical Interests to try if the regular carrots end up as midgets.

  13. Great tips!
    Now -- any tips on not feeling SO INCREDIBLY SAD when you have to thin the poor carrots. Those babies that must be "sacrificed for the cause" just break my heart :)

  14. Lo, I had the same problem--not sadness so much as hating to "waste" anything. But when you see your carrot tops really take off in neat little grids because they have room to grow, you will feel better I promise!

  15. Do you mulch with "fresh" grass clippings? Thanks, I am new to gardening and need lots of help!

  16. Anon,
    I've used both green ('fresh') and brown (dried) grass clippings as mulch in my raised garden beds. Now that we have a lawn mower with a collecting basket attached, they usually go straight from the mower into the garden.

    But up until last year I had to rake the clippings off the lawn, and sometimes they had already dried and turned brown by the time I got to them, especially if the weather is hot and sunny - they dry out quickly!

    Both kinds have worked fine for me, although if your clippings are very wet, they may end up getting moldy if you use a thick layer - which is what works best when mulching to keep out weeds.

    You can always spread the clippings out somewhere for a day or two, or even a few hours, to dry them out before spreading them - either on the lawn where they were cut or on a plastic tarp, etc.

    Grass clippings are a wonderful way to both mulch and add nutrients to the soil. If you don't need/want to mulch, simply leave them on the lawn where you cut, where they'll also work their way back into the soil and help the lawn. Grass clippings never need to go in the garbage! Though you can also add them to the compost pile.

    Hope this helps! :)

  17. ive planted carrot seeds in a germinating tray & the seedlings are about an inch tall & have 2 do i know when theyre ready 2 put in the soil...they just look so tiny & fragile...i need some help please...totally new to this gardening thing but loving every minute of it...

  18. Hi Anon,
    Welcome to the wonderful world of gardening! I'm afraid I don't have any experience planting carrot seeds in containers - it's recommended that you plant seeds for root crops like carrots directly in the ground.

    Whenever starting seeds in containers, though, you want to wait to transplant them until they have at least one pair of 'true' leaves. The first two leaves that sprout up aren't true leaves.

    Since carrot seedlings are - as you mentioned - so tiny and fragile, you'll probably want to wait until they're bigger before you put them directly in the ground. If they're all in one container now, you'll want to first transplant them into individual plugs.

    Happy growing! :)


March 2013 update: My apologies for the inconvenience - I know word verification is a pain - but I've had to turn it on to help stop the ridiculous number of anonymous spam comments I've been getting every day. Thanks for your understanding.

Welcome to! Thanks so much for taking the time to write. While I'm not always able to reply to every comment, I receive and enjoy reading them all.

Your feedback is greatly appreciated, and I especially love to hear about what's going on in your own garden. I know, too, that other readers also delight in reading about your garden successes, failures, helpful tips, and lessons learned. Feel free to leave comments on older posts!

I try my best to answer all questions, but sometimes it takes me a few days to get to them. And sometimes, I'm sorry to say, they fall through the cracks, and for that I sincerely apologize.

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