bunches of freshly harvested carrots, some orange and some purple with a sign reading carrots three dollars a bunch

Carrots come in colors besides orange.
USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

Carrots

Carrots are a root vegetable well-loved by many and heralded as an excellent source of vitamin A. This healthy vegetable is pretty easy to grow and doesn’t require a lot of room. And carrots are wonderful to grow with kids—they love being able to pull something out of the ground and eat it (after washing, of course).

Originating in central Asia, carrots (Daucus carota var. sativus) have been cultivated for centuries. But this cold-hardy plant still deserves a spot in the modern fall vegetable garden.

Characteristics

The edible part of a carrot is the root, typically orange in color. The leaves have a lacy appearance and form from the base of the 1 to 2 foot tall plant. Carrots are biennial, and will produce white lacy flowers in the second growing season if the roots are not harvested.

The classic orange carrot of today is actually a relative newcomer to the vegetable world. Originally, carrots were purple, white, red, yellow, and black. Today, “rainbow” carrots such as ‘Yellowbunch‘, Purple Haze’, and ‘White Satin' have made a comeback with increasing popularity. Sizes vary widely as well, from short and stout Chantennays, to mid-sized, blunt Nantes types, to the long, tapered Imperator varieties. There are also “mini” and “radish-style” carrots—perfect for growing in containers.

Planting and Care

Carrots thrive during the cool season here in Florida and will do best when grown in deep, well-drained, and fertile soil. They need a good bit of moisture especially as the roots rapidly expand, which is something to keep in mind particularly since Florida gardeners are growing carrots during the drier part of the year.

The most important thing about planting carrots is the soil. Carrots need soil that is loose and free of rocks, stones, or roots. Anything that disturbs the development of the main carrot root will cause branching; you'll still get a carrot, but it won't look quite like the kind you find in the store. Strangely shaped carrots are perfectly edible, but they can be hard to peel because of the shape. Try to fluff up, loosen, and clear out the soil about a foot deep to prevent anything from obstructing your carrot tuber growth. Soil-borne pests like nematodes can feed on the root tip as well, cause forked or distorted carrots.

When choosing a location to plant your carrots remember they ideally need 8 hours of sunlight. However, as root vegetables they may be okay with less sun, so don’t be afraid to give them a try even if you don’t have a very sunny spot.

Carrots can be planted August to March in North and Central Florida and from September to March in South Florida. If you stagger the planting—meaning you plant some once every few weeks—you will be more likely to have a steady supply for harvest. Carrots are also great for succession planting, meaning once you pull them up you plant something else in their place.

Some varieties for planting in Florida gardens include ‘Imperator’, ‘Nantes’, ‘Danvers’, and ‘Chantenay’. You’ll want to space carrot rows 10 inches apart with plants spaced 1–3 inches apart. Seeds should be planted shallowly, about quarter-inch deep in the soil. While we think of purple carrots as a unique variety, purple is actually the original carrot color. Varieties like ‘Cosmic Purple’, ‘Purple Haze’, and ‘Purple Dragon’ are purple on the outside and white or orange on the inside.

A good trick to ensure that you get a nice straight row of carrots planted at the right depth is to press the handle of a hoe or rake gently into the soil. This gives you a little indent in the earth in which to place the seeds. Then you can sprinkle soil over top of the seeds and give them a light watering.

Don’t worry if you don’t see any above-soil action right away; carrots are slow to germinate. The soil should be kept consistently moist throughout the germination and growing period. Do not let the top of the soil dry until the seeds have germinated. This may require frequent light irrigations every day or two if the weather is very hot and dry. Once seedlings are about an inch tall, be sure to thin them to the recommended spacing. Thinning is important; with such tiny seeds it's very easy to overplant your carrot rows. Each carrot plant needs between 1 and 3 inches, depending on variety, to grow.

The white lacy flower umbel of a wild carrot plant

Top-view of the flower structure of Daucus carota, Queen Anne’s lace or wild carrot, Bedford County, Virginia. Doug Goldman, USDA-NRCS-NPDT

Some gardeners choose to plant radishes along with carrots. Radishes germinate quickly; this helps mark where the tiny carrot seeds have been planted. It also allows for some growing space, as the radishes are harvested before the carrots need the space to grow. For the best carrot production however, just planting a row of optimally spaced carrots is ideal.

As the growing season advances the carrots require less water, but keep it scheduled; inconsistent watering will cause the roots to crack.

Carrots need between 70 to 120 days after planting to be ready for harvesting; exact timing will depend on the variety. Carrots can be harvested and eaten early, but when grown past their prime, they become tough, woody, and inedible.

Practice crop rotation when planting carrots. If carrots are repeatedly planted in the same place, you run the potential of encountering an infestation of wire worms or problems with nematodes. While largely free of pest and disease problems, one serious disease of carrots in Florida is Alternaria leaf spot, which can be serious if the foliage stays wet too long.

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