Carrots are a perfect choice for growing vegetables in your home garden. They take up very little space and can be planted in early spring through the summer months.
While carrots are a desirable crop, they do require a bit of extra work to grow. So, in this article, I’ll share our whole process of growing carrots in raised beds.
Preparing The Soil
One of the most important rules for growing high-quality carrots is to use a light, fluffy soil that is free from rocks. In early spring, loosen the soil and remove any larger stones. Rocky soils will cause carrots to fork off instead of growing straight down.
Potting soils are great for this reason, but I wouldn’t recommend filling your entire raised beds with potting soil. Not only would this be very expensive, but it would settle over time, requiring re-fills regularly.
Instead, you can sift the soil in the section of your garden where you plan to grow carrots. We use a simple homemade riddle (soil sifter) made from 2x4s and metal mesh. If sifting isn’t an option, just be sure to work the soil with a pitchfork or a shovel before planting.
In addition to removing rocks and larger particles from the soil, I recommend adding compost or rotted manure in early spring. This helps improve drainage and provides nutrients for the carrots all season long.
Note: If your soil has too much nitrogen, it may cause the carrots to fork. Try planting carrots in mid-summer after a heavy-feeding crop such as broccoli has been removed.
As you prepare the soil, it is also a great time to consider what else to plant with your carrots. Choosing the right companion plants can help avoid issues with pests later in the year. I like to plant garlic, chives, and onions nearby my carrots to help confuse pests.
When To Plant Carrots
The timing of when to plant carrots will vary based on what type you’re growing and when you want to harvest your carrots. But in general, carrots can be planted any time from early spring to mid summer.
There are three main types of carrots, with many different varieties within each category. Each main type is typically planted at a different time of year based on when you would like to harvest:
- Early carrots. Early carrot varieties are usually sown in early spring for an early crop. These can also be sown in very late fall for an extra-early harvest the following spring. Early carrots are a great choice for heavier soils, as they tend to be smaller.
- Main crop carrots. Main crop carrots are typically planted in mid-late spring for a late summer or fall harvest. These varieties benefit most from a lighter, deep soil culture, and take longer to fully mature. Main crop carrots are great for fresh eating or storage.
- Storage carrots. Storage carrots are usually planted in late spring through mid-summer for a fall harvest. As the name would suggest, storage carrots are bred specifically for long-term storage. These varieties are usually thick and stumpy.
Tip: If you want to sow your seeds a couple weeks earlier outdoors, cover your plantings with row cover or a cold frame. This will keep the soil and plants warm until the temperatures rise.
Germinating Carrot Seeds
Probably the most challenging part of growing carrots is germinating the seeds. This is because carrot seeds are small and take a long time to sprout. The seeds are planted shallowly and are vulnerable to drying out before they germinate.
However, we have some easy tips for germinating carrot seeds successfully, every time!
How to germinate carrot seeds
- Rake soil flat.
To avoid drainage and watering issues, rake the soil’s surface so that it is perfectly level and flat. This will also prevent seeds from washing away in heavy rain.
- Dig a shallow trench.
Using a trowel, dig a straight trench about 1/2″ deep along the full length of your raised bed. If planting multiple rows, space each row about 4″ apart.
- Plant 1 seed every inch.
With a handful of seeds, drop 1 seed into the trench every 1 inch. If your seeds are older, plant about twice as thick to ensure good germination rates along your rows.
- Cover lightly with soil.
After planting, cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil, about 1/4-1/2″ deep. Avoid covering too deeply, as this could inhibit growth.
- Mist the surface to wet the seeds.
After sowing, I like to use a hose to mist the surface of the soil thoroughly. Don’t spray too aggressively to avoid dislodging the seeds.
- Cover area with cardboard or wood to keep moist.
After planting, it is very important the the seeds never dry out. To keep them wet, use a piece of cardboard or a wood board laid on the surface of the soil. This works to trap moisture like a mulch would, without preventing germination.
- Check for germination after a few days.
After 3-4 days, start checking under the cardboard for germination and moisture. If the soil dries out, wet it again with a light misting.
- Remove covering after sprouting.
After your carrots begin to sprout, remove the cardboard to expose them to light. It is important to get the covering off as soon as your see germination to avoid seedlings dying!
Once your carrots sprout, the hardest parts are done! There are just a few things left for you to do before harvest time.
Thinning Carrot Seedlings
If carrots are planted too closely to each other, they can become intertwined, misshapen, or forked. To avoid this and grow as many “perfect” carrots as possible, I recommend thinning the seedlings.
About 1-2 weeks after sprouting, thin out your carrot rows to 1 plant every 2-3 inches. Be careful not to disturb other nearby seedlings in the process.
Tip: Thin your seedlings on a calm, still day to avoid the scent drifting to nearby carrot rust flies.
Carrot Plant Care
After your carrots are situated and growing, maintenance is very basic and straightforward. It is mostly a waiting game until harvest day, but here are the basics of carrot plant care:
- Lighting. Carrots prefer full sun conditions, all season long. Since they only grow to about 2 feet tall, plant them on the South side of your garden to avoid being shaded by taller plants.
- Fertilizing. If your soil was amended with compost, manure, or all-purpose fertilizer in early spring, the plant should not need any supplemental fertilizer. As the weather warms up, your carrots should start to grow faster, developing large, green leafy tops. If development seems slow even in early summer, try a top dressing of fertilizer or a liquid feeding.
- Watering. Carrots grow best in well-drained, light soil. In raised beds, drainage is great by design, so water deeply and only when necessary. If the carrot tops are drooping, they may be over or under-watered, so adjust as necessary.
- Pest control. Carrots can be a target for a number of pests, including carrot rust flies, aphids, cutworms, caterpillars, and root knot nematodes. Keep a watchful eye on your carrot greens and roots for any signs of damage and treat immediately. One of the best ways to protect carrots is to use insect netting.
- Disease. If you notice purpling tops, or any other unhealthy growth, your carrots may be diseased. aster yellows is a common carrot disease that is spread by leafhoppers.
Once your carrot plants have reached their mid-summer stage of growth, you will likely be tempted to start harvesting. However, it is best to be sure your carrots are ready before pulling them up.
Again, each carrot variety will have a different growth duration. Check the seed packet for your specific carrot variety and look for “days to maturity” or “time to harvest.” This will give you a general idea of when you can expect to dig up your carrots.
- Early carrots are typically ready for harvest around 35 days after sprouting for baby carrots, or 55 days for full-sized roots.
- Main crop and storage carrots usually take longer to mature, around 75 days after sprouting.
Another way to check for readiness is to dig around the base of a carrot and observe the crown of the root. If it is wide enough for your liking, it’s worth pulling one up!
Keep in mind that not all of your carrots will be ready at the same time. Some individual roots may simply need a bit longer than others. Once you remove a few larger carrots, it may free up some room for the neighboring plants to thrive.
To harvest carrots, it can help to loosen the soil with a pitchfork before pulling. This will prevent any of the roots from breaking during harvest. Then, hold the carrots by the base of the foliage and pull straight upwards.
Note: It is wise to harvest your carrots as soon as they are ready to avoid unnecessary time in the ground. This can lead to vulnerability to pests and disease, risking a crop loss.
Carrots are one of the most fun plants to grow in raised beds. The reward of pulling up fresh, beautiful carrots is well worth the extra effort of direct sowing the seeds in the garden.
I hope this guide has helped you learn about growing carrots in raised beds. Many of the same principles apply if you want to try growing carrots in containers or directly in the ground as well. Good luck!