An article by Travis Key from Lazy Dog Farm
We grow a lot of different veggies in the fall and winter garden, but carrots are one of our favorites! Homegrown carrots from the backyard grocery store are significantly sweeter, crunchier, and more flavorful than carrots found at the grocery store. And when those carrot tops get kissed by a frost during the winter months, they’re even better. Carrots can be a tricky vegetable to grow for beginner gardeners, but we’re here to help!
When to Plant Carrots
Let’s start by determining when you should plant. Here in south Georgia, we plant our carrots in early to mid-October and grow them throughout the winter. We must wait until our soil temperatures cool and get into the 70s, otherwise carrots don’t germinate very well. Use the soil temperatures as your guide. Don’t try and plant carrots if it’s still hot during the day.
Carrots are relatively cold-tolerant, and a light frost usually won’t bother them at all. I have seen the tops get completely burnt when temperatures get into the teens, but that’s rare for us in south Georgia. Many growers in zones north of us will heavily mulch their carrots to protect them during a hard freeze. And although the tops may get burned by the freezing temperatures, the carrots below the ground are usually just fine!
How to Plant Carrots
Carrot seeds are tiny, making it almost impossible to plant a single seed in a hole or dibble in your soil. But that’s okay! You’ll want to plant carrots much differently than you’d plant beans, corn, or peas.
Carrots should be planted in a “band” as opposed to a single linear row. The band can vary in width, but we usually sprinkle seeds in a 3-4” wide band in our raised bed or in-ground garden. We use hand tools to make a shallow depression in the soil where our carrot row will be. We then pour the seeds into a small cup and sprinkle the seeds liberally along that shallow depression.
Be careful not to plant carrot seeds too deep. They only need to be planted 1/4” to 1/2" deep, so don’t cover them with too much soil after planting. Just cover them lightly using a rake or sprinkle some potting mix over the top of the seeds.
The Tricky Part!
In addition to planting too soon when soils are still warm, the most common mistake when planting carrots is not keeping the soil moist after planting. Carrots will take much longer to germinate than traditional garden seeds. I’ve seen them germinate as soon as 6-7 days after planting in ideal conditions, but it’s not uncommon for them to take 10 days or more to germinate.
The trick for good carrot germination is to keep the soil consistently moist until the seeds germinate. If this means watering the bed multiple times a day, that’s what you’ll need to do. If you don’t keep the soil consistently moist, you’ll get spotty germination or no germination at all.
We usually keep our beds soaked with drip irrigation after planting carrots. If you don’t have an irrigation system, some growers will cover their recently planted carrot bed with a tarp. This keeps the moisture in the soil and reduces the need for frequent watering. It can also help to get faster germination on your carrot seed. Just be sure to remove the tarp as soon as seedlings start popping through the soil.
Because they’re a root vegetable, carrots will benefit from more phosphorous and potassium in the soil. This is why we usually feed our carrots with AgroThrive Fruit & Flower as opposed to AgroThrive General Purpose. Although carrots are obviously not a fruit or a flower, the extra potassium will help you grow some nice carrots.
We’ll start fertilizing with AgroThrive Fruit & Flower when the carrot sprouts are 4-5” tall and starting to grow well in the cooler fall weather. We’ll mix 2 ounces of AgroThrive Fruit & Flower per gallon of water in a watering can or bucket, and pour alongside the plants in our raised bed garden. We’ll also inject through our drip irrigation system for larger plantings in the in-ground garden.
We’ll continue to feed the carrots every two weeks throughout the fall and winter months. We want the carrot plants to have strong, healthy tops as they grow. But we are most concerned with feeding them the right balance of nutrients to get the underground production that’s so sweet and delicious.
When to Harvest Carrots
When growing overwintered carrots, harvest times can vary greatly depending on the winter weather. In a year where we don’t get many freezing nights, our carrots may be ready to harvest in mid to late January. In a year where we’re getting frequent freezing nights, they may not be ready until February.
The great thing about overwintered carrots is that they “hold” well in the soil. This means that you don’t have to harvest them all at one time. Instead, you can harvest a handful as you need them because they hold so well in the soil during the cooler months.
Start pulling a few carrots in late winter to see if they’re large enough to harvest. We’ll usually pick some early to use in pot roasts and other dishes, while leaving the rest to get larger. If you leave them in the ground too long, they can get “woody” or split, so be aware of that. Just check them every week to make sure you harvest them at the size you prefer.
Thousands of gardeners have been tuning in to The Lazy Dog Farm YouTube channel where Travis covers a variety topics ranging from how to successfully start seedlings to how to make a flavorful hotsauce that packs a punch. Accompanied by his wife Brooklyn and their two boys, the gardens on their 2 acre homestead in southwest Georgia are always filled with a wide variety of vegetables that are enjoyed fresh or preserved for later.