By Mara Higdon
Crunchy and packed with beta-carotene, I never pass up a freshly harvested carrot. Carrots are a great addition to your fall garden and are a perfect ingredient in hearty soups or stews. Carrots come in all sizes and in many colors as well. Home gardeners may want to stick with smaller varieties due to their sweetness and quick maturity dates. The larger ones are good for juicing and dishes that need to simmer on the stove or in the oven for hours. Beta carotene is a powerful antioxidant that helps in fighting cancers. They may also protect or decrease the prevalence of a stroke and heart disease.
Soil preparation is important for carrots since you are essentially eating the plant’s roots when you eat a carrot. Sandy soil is preferable to allow the roots to grow and expand. Till or double dig 8-9 inches into your soil. You should begin planting seeds 10-12 weeks before your first frost date. In Missouri, the average first frost date is October 15th. However, you can extend your growing season by covering your garden with cold frames or mini greenhouses made out of PVC and plastic sheeting. When planting in late summer for a fall crop, plant the seeds one inch apart and ¼ to ½ inches deep. You can plant the seeds a little shallower if you are planting for spring. The seeds should germinate within a couple of weeks. Keep the soil moist with a gentle watering. You don’t want to blast them with a hard spray from the hose. When weeding keep it shallow and be mindful of the roots.
If you are planting a fall crop in the heat of summer, you may need to provide some shade for the small seedlings. Small varieties of carrots can be ready to harvest in 45-60 days depending on the variety. Larger varieties of carrots need about 70-80 days, but can be thinned to help the roots expand. The thinned carrots can be eaten as baby carrots in salad or for a snack! While it can be difficult to tell if the carrots are ready to be harvested, the best way is to pull them and just see how big they are. You can also loosen the soil with a garden fork to make it easier to pull them out by their tops. Carrots can be stored without their tops in the refrigerator for several weeks.
Here are a few varieties to try starting with the smallest to the largest varieties! Happy Gardening!
- Orbit – 58 days to harvest, good color, few off-types, best harvested at the size of a 50 cent piece
- Thumbelina – 60 days; 1992 AAS winner; round roots; good for planting in containers and in heavy, shallow or rocky soil
- Little Finger – 65 days; tiny tender roots; 5 inch roots, ½ inch thick; golden orange, sweet and crisp
- Red-Cored Chantenay – 70 days; heavy yield; good flavor; short, thick roots, broad at the shoulder, tapered to blunt tip
- Royal Chantenay – 70 days; broad-shouldered, tapered roots; bright orange; good for heavy or shallow soils
- Danvers Half-Long – 75 days; uniform, 7 to 8 inch roots tapered to very blunt end; sweet, tender
- Tendersweet – 75 days; long, tapered roots; rich orange color; sweet, coreless
Mara Higdon is the Program Director at Gateway Greening. They focus on community development throughout the St Louis area.