One of my favorite garden treats is a carrot pulled from the dirt, washed enough to get most of the dirt off and then eaten on the spot. The only thing better is the first fully ripe tomato.
Carrots are best planted directly into a sunny spot in the garden. Starting them indoors is not practical, as most root crops don’t tolerate transplanting. Carrots can be planted any time after late April through early August and generally take 65 to 70 days to mature depending on the variety. Late plantings will take early frosts but will need to be pulled before the ground freezes in the fall.
They prefer a deep, sandy loam that drains well and is free from rocks. If you have clay, stick to the short stubby varieties. Carrots don’t need much fertilizer other than some nicely aged compost worked in before planting. Don’t use fresh manure, as bacteria can transfer to the carrots and too much nitrogen will cause the root to fork. If you are rotating your vegetable crops, carrots are a great crop to follow high nitrogen users such as corn.
Getting carrots to come up before the weeds take over seems to be the biggest challenge for gardeners. The seed can take 14 to 21 days to sprout, and a lot of weeds can come up in the same place in that time frame. Prepare a very smooth, weed-free bed. I like to put down a couple of inches of weed-free potting soil where my rows will go to smother weed seed. Barely cover the seeds with soil and keep it moist throughout the germination process. It may help to lay a wide board over the row to keep moisture in and weeds out. Remove it as soon as the plants emerge.
Thin the carrots to three to four inches apart when they are 2 to 3 inches tall. Crowded carrots don’t grow roots. Water them regularly and deeply. They will be ready to harvest any time after they are the size of your finger. Carrots can also be grown in a large pot at least 12 inches deep.
Carrots come in several shapes and colors. Round, Chantenay and Danvers varieties tend to be short and blocky. This makes them good for clay or rocky soil. Those who garden in the Spokane Valley rock should consider these. Nantes and imperator varieties are long and slender and do well in deep soils. They come in orange, purple, red and light yellow and lots of shades in between. Unfortunately, the color disappears when they are cooked.
The biggest problem most people have with carrots is that gophers eat them from below ground and the deer pull them up. There are a few insects that will nibble leaves or invade the roots. Most of the insects and maybe the deer can be controlled by placing floating row cover over the bed after the carrots germinate.