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Seed Starting: Carrots

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As many of you know, I grow the majority of my plants from seed – and of course, I garden year-round – indoors and out here in Indiana – USDA Hardiness Zones 5 and 6.

Carrots are one of the first seeds I sow every year, typically on January 1.

I’ve sown them directly in the garden on this date and in my hoop house.

I’ve tried starting carrot seed indoors in those little peat pellets and even in toilet paper rolls.

I figured if I could get them to germinate I could just transplant them.

My experiment did work, but it was a lot of extra work, so now I just direct sow the seeds into the garden.

I do not cover the seeds.

They germinate better that way.

I do press them into the soil ever so lightly and water them in well.

Carrot seeds are tiny. I’ve tried lightly covering them with soil only to find they did not germinate. It is important to mark the rows or patches where you plant your carrot seed so you don’t think they are weeds and pull them up. I tend to plant in patches now instead of rows. I simply mark a rectangle or square area off in my garden, rake the soil a bit so it is loose and randomly sprinkle the seeds on top. I walk over the area after it is planted, using my feet to press the seeds into the ground. This method works and I actually get good germination from the carrot seeds. As soon as I am finished pressing the seeds into the ground, I use a sprinkler or seed watering nozzle to water the seeds in. Sometimes I plant right before it snows and if that is the case, I let the snow do the watering.

The other thing I have learned is to hold onto my seed packages. They contain a lot of information such as germination times, harvesting dates and more. Plus I can reuse them year after year to hold the seeds I saved. While it is true that growing multiple types of carrot seeds will result in cross pollination, there are ways to avoid that. You can cover your crops with row cover and uncover them one at a time to allow pollination to occur or you can hand pollinate. Another – easier method – is to only allow one type of carrot to set seed. By alternating the planting times of the different varieties of carrots, this is easy to do.

Be aware that carrot seed will cross with the wild Queen Anne’s Lace – and you do not want this to happen. If you have this plant anywhere near your garden – and it blooms, cover your carrot flowers with row cover – or even a bag. This prevents cross pollination and keeps the seeds pure.


So – how do you get carrots to set seed? Well, this takes some doing. First of all you must either mulch the carrots well in fall, or cut the foliage back to one inch and then dig the carrots up taking care not to damage them. Place the dug carrots in moist sand and put them into a root cellar for the winter. When spring arrives, plant the carrots back into the garden. By early summer you will see the flower stalks. Allow two sets of flower heads to mature, then cover the seed heads with pantyhose, allow them to turn brown on the plant and then collect the seeds. You may notice some seed falling into the pantyhose. This is a sure sign it is time to harvest the seeds. Carrot seeds – correctly stored – are good for at least three years and I can tell you I have some seeds that are older than that which still germinate. The rate is down, yes, but I can still get carrots.

The average germination time for carrots is 12 to 15 days. This time frame varies depending on the variety of seed, the growing conditions and of course the soil and air temperature.

Here are the varieties of carrots I am growing this year and a little bit of information about each variety.

 

Cosmic Purple:

Carrot Cosmic Purple has deep purple skin with an orange-red flesh. It is one of my favorites. The carrots grow 6 to 7 inches long. The optimal soil temperature for germination is 55 to 75 degrees F. So, what’s the point of planting on January 1? Because when the soil warms up, the seeds are already planted and begin to germinate. It’s a real time saver – and the carrots perform so much better when they are allowed to germinate at just the right time, plus I get an earlier harvest!

This particular variety germinates in 6 to 21 days. Just because you don’t see anything, doesn’t mean the seeds didn’t germinate. It can take up to three weeks before you see tiny green carrot foliage! You can plant the seeds a half inch apart at first, but thin them once they begin to grow so they are one to two inches apart. This gives the carrots room to grow. It takes 80 days for this variety to reach maturity.

 

Dragon:

Dragon is another purple carrot. I really do like the purple varieties better than any other color of carrot. I think they taste better and I love the color. This particular variety is exceptionally high in antho-cyanins and other antioxidants. This variety has longer roots and needs a seed bed depth of 12 to 16 inches to allow plenty of room for growth. It also prefers the soil to be a bit warmer for germination. The ideal temperature range is between 60 and 70 degrees F.

This particular variety germinates in 6 to 21 days. The preferred plant spacing is one-and-a-half inches. It takes 75 days for this variety to reach maturity.

 

Tricolor Circus Circus Carrots:

I love Renee’s Garden. She has some of the coolest seeds around and these Tricolor Circus Circus Carrot Seeds are no exception. The colors in the packet include bright orange (Mokum F1), creamy white (White Satin F1) and of course, purple (Purple Rain F1).  The average length of these varieties are 8 inches. The seed packet does not give the optimal soil temperature for these varieties.

These particular varieties germinate in 10 to 20 days. Renee suggests harvesting the smaller carrots once they being to orange up. Thin the carrots at this time so they are about two inches apart. It takes 70 days for these varieties to reach maturity.

 

Planting Carrots Outdoors In January
Planting Carrots Outdoors In January

Kaleidoscope Mix:

Yes, this is another colorful carrot mix from The Cook’s Garden. It contains the following varieties: Cosmic Purple, Atomic Red, Solar Yellow and Solar Orange.

The seed packet contains no information other than to harvest them once the top of the carrot root reaches 3/4 to one-and-one-half inch in diameter.  It also suggests thinning the carrots so they are three inches apart once the carrot foliage is an inch tall.

 

Scarlet Nantes:

The Scarlet Nantes Carrot Seeds packet contained no information, so when this happens, I typically grow them just like all the other carrots.

 

Chantenay:

The Chantenay Red Cored Carrot Seeds packet did not contain any information either. The other seed packet, I cut up to put in with the seeds so it was unreadable. I really hate it when seed companies do this. I can take the time to look the information up, but to someone with limited internet access and limited gardening ability, it makes it really hard.

 

Nantes Coreless:

The Carrot Nantes seeds come in a planting strip making it best to lightly cover them with 1/8 to 1/4 inch of soil. Planting strips make it easy to plant, but any part exposed to the sunlight drys out quickly which can cause problems. Be sure – if you use these – to lightly cover all parts of that strip. The roots of this variety grow six to seven inches long and it is an ideal variety for canning or storage.

This particular variety germinates in 8 to 12 days. Thin plants to 3 inches apart. It takes 70 days for this variety to reach maturity.

 

Babette:

The Babette French baby carrot variety has a deep orange flesh. These mini-carrots reach a mature size of just three to four inches long, however if they are left in the garden, they will continue to lengthen. This would be a good variety to try in containers.

This particular variety germinates in 10 to 20 days. Renee suggests harvesting the smaller carrots once they being to orange up. Thin the carrots at this time so they are about two inches apart. It takes 70 days for this variety to reach maturity.

 

Romeo:

These ball-shaped, orange-fleshed Round Baby Romeo carrots are very fast growing and ready to harvest when they are an inch to an inch-and-a-half in diameter. That makes them perfect for container gardening.

This particular variety germinates in 10 to 20 days. Thin the carrots so they are about three inches apart. It takes 60 days for this variety to reach maturity.

 

Danvers Half Long:

The Danvers Half Long is a very uniform, heavy cropping carrot ideal for freezing. The roots grow seven to seven-and-a-half inches long.

This particular variety germinates in 7 to 14 days. It takes 70 days for this variety to reach maturity.

 

Zanahoria:

This is a very productive variety ideal for storage or canning. It has strong tops that make harvesting easy. The roots grow to eight inches.

This particular variety germinates in 8 to 12 days. Thin the carrots so they are about 15 inches apart. It takes 75 days for this variety to reach maturity.

 

Danvers #126:

The ‘Danvers 126’ variety is a good keeper. It has strong tops making harvesting easy and eight-inch roots. It is very productive and high in Vitamin A.

This particular variety germinates in 8 to 12 days. Thin the carrots so they are about 15 inches apart. It takes 75 days for this variety to reach maturity.

Are you interested in knowing even more about seed saving and starting? Check out my book The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Seed Saving & Starting!

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