With the summer days slipping rather quickly into the cool autumn days, its time to plant carrots again! I’ve had a roaring success with carrots this summer, apart from the last sowing when the heat decided to pop in for a few days – right when I sowed the carrots of course.
Carrots are a crop, I struggled with for years. Sowing packet after packet and always getting the same result. Nothing. I read books, articles and begged fellow carrot growers for their ‘secret.’ Apart from learning there is no ‘secret’ to growing carrots, it appeared moisture for the entire time of germination is essential. Thinking back now to the savage drought and heat we usually experience over summer I’m sure that’s the major contributor to my failure.
Fast forward 3 years and I’m now a successful carrot grower. A badge I wear with pride. To the stage I’m dragging any unsuspecting visitor out to view my carrot crop. Proudly pulling orange, yellow, red and purple giants from the earth, wiping the dirt upon my pants and saying ‘here taste this.’ Few will oblige to taste my earth covered bounty. And to them I thank you! Others? Well we won’t go there.
Carrot seeds are tiny things and need to be directly sown. I’ve seen (not tried myself) others have great success with seedlings. But here I’m using seed. When sowing carrot seeds it is difficult to space them evenly. Pete Cundell suggests mixing the seed with dry sand. I like to mix my seed with a magic black compost I buy at the local markets. (For the locals its called Turners Compost at the PCYC Markets). I’ve also used seed raising mix, potting mix (sieved for the finer stuff) and cocca peat. By mixing the seeds with a media it helps to space them out. Other times I’ve nothing on hand so I simply sprinkle the seeds into the soil. It all has the same result in the end!
Soil for growing carrots needs to be well dug. It’s a pain, but carrots like to sink deep into the earth and a rocky, lumpy path simply won’t do. A full digging fork depth is enough. The surface of the soil needs to be a fine tilth. Meaning? The lumpy bits need to be broken up and the soil surface nice and crumbly. Remember these seeds are tiny. A rake or a hoe is really handy to level out the soil and break up these lumps. If the soil is particularly dry now is a good time to give it a quick water. Once the soils ready its time for sowing!
Somewhere along the line of past gardeners, it came about that plants needed to grown in neat straight lines. All a certain distance apart. Often this organization in a smaller garden, where space is short, is welcomed. So by all means sow your carrots in rows, spaced that perfect 20 to 30cm apart. Simply make long shallow lines in the soil and fill with your seeds. Or take a leaf from natures book and sow a drift of carrots over a square metre. If you’ve mixed the seeds with a media before sowing then skip this part. For a row I will lightly cover the seeds with soil, in a drift I will gently rake over the soil with my fingers or spread a light covering of soil over the seeds. A light watering with a misty hose or rose attachment on the watering can is a good idea, if the soil is dry. Just be careful the seeds don’t wash away.
Next up is the important part. You will need a sheet of cardboard. An old beer carton is perfect. Gently roll it up and give it a soak in a bucket of water. Once soaked through carefully unroll the cardboard and place it over your freshly sown seeds. Weigh down the corners, try to avoid placing the weights over the seeds.
Now step back and admire you handy work.
The waiting game
For the first few days nothing is to be done apart from keeping the cardboard moist. If it is raining, hurrah you’re off the hook. After 3 days begin peeking under the cardboard for the tiny shoots. Carrots can take up to 2 weeks to germinate. Don’t be discouraged, continue checking and watering the cardboard until you see them. Once germination has begun its time to remove the cardboard. Leaving it on for too long, the seedlings will be long and leggy.
Now you have tiny seedlings, it is important for the first few weeks they stay moist. Again water with a mist or rose attachment on the watering can. Prick out any weeds that have popped up too. When the first set of true leaves have formed it is time to ease off the watering and let them do their thing. It will take roughly 10- 12 weeks for the carrots to reach full size. Most books recommend thinning out your carrots in the first few days. I don’t. I wait until I have baby carrots and then begin thinning them out. Why waste those plants when they’re potential food?
Follow up crops
To have a continual harvest of carrots, I try to sow 3 1m rows or a 1m square drift every 4 to 6 weeks.
I hope this ‘how-to’ has helped a few of you, or inspired you to try growing carrots. As they are really easy to grow! More tutorials will be popping up in the weeks ahead, so keep an eye out.