The most crucial factor in successfully growing carrots (Daucus carota var. sativus) is the texture of the soil. To produce those perfectly straight, long, thin roots, you ought to have a light, sandy soil enriched with lots of organic matter and deeply tilled. Unfortunately, too many of us have instead a heavy clay, full of stones. In soil such as this, the taproots of carrots have trouble penetrating and they often end up like the ones below: stunted, distorted and forked. They can also be impossible to pull out of such soil without snapping off.
This doesn't meant that you have to give up on your favorite crunchy vegetable. Carrots can be grown in raised beds or even in containers, where you can give them a planting medium more to their liking. But growing the long, slender varieties that look so tempting at the market may still be difficult unless your containers or raised beds are at least a foot deep.
Fortunately, plant breeders are sympathetic to your problem and there are now many different cultivars with shorter roots, more suitable to growing situations where either soil quality or depth doesn't allow the full-length varieties to succeed. You should also remember that carrots can be harvested at any stage in their development and baby carrots are tender and delicious.
Here are some of the major types of carrots now available to gardeners. There are now many different cultivars of all these types to choose from, including miniature versions of the classic varieties.
'Imperator' These are those carrots at the market, with their long, slim roots that taper towards the tip. They can be 10 or more inches long. Unless you have better soil than I do, these are the kinds of carrots that you only wish you could grow.
'Nantes' Carrots of this type are shorter than the Imperator varieties, typically about 7 inches long. Some of them are called 'Half Long'. Their shape is non-tapering and they are blunt at the tip, which makes them less likely to snap off when you are trying to pull them. 'Little Finger' is a miniature variety of 'Nantes', only growing to about 4 inches.
'Scarlet Nantes' 'Mokum' 'Little Finger'
'Danvers' Another type of carrot often called 'Half Long', these varieties tend to be about as long as the Nantes, but more blocky or conical in shape, taping from shoulders to tip. They were bred to do better in heavier soils than 'Nantes' varieties.
'Danvers Half Long'
'Chantenay' These carrots are short and stout, even more so than the 'Danvers' varieties, typically only about 4 inches long. They were bred for heavy soil and can even grow in clay.
'Red Cored Chantenay' 'Caroline'
'Planet' Carrots of this type develop a root about the size and shape of a golf ball. Developed for heavy clay soils.'Thumbelina'
Growing Tips: Once you have selected your carrots, spring is the time to get the seeds into the soil. Carrots prefer cooler weather. Soil preparation is particularly important for this crop. If you are growing in the ground, till thoroughly and deep, working in organic matter and removing any stones or sticks. Too much manure or other high-nitrogen fertilizer should be avoided; this often results in undesireable hairy roots. Carrots and other root crops want potassium, not nitrogen.
Carrots should be sown directly into the ground, not transplanted. The seeds are quite small, so you should take care to space them out while sowing and not to cover them with more than a half inch of light soil. Some varieties are available as pelleted seeds or seed tapes, which make this task easier. Carrots are slow to germinate; it might take them two weeks to come up. Rows of carrots can be as close as six inches apart, or even closer if grown in a container.
Once they have sprouted, the carrots must be thinned as soon as possible to at least an inch apart. Carrot roots need room to develop without interference. As they grow, you can pull the thinnings for baby carrots, leaving more room for the rest.
You can see when your carrots are ready to harvest by the size of the shoulders emerging from the soil. If your soil is heavy, be careful in pulling the carrots so they don't break off. I use a potato fork to loosen mine.
Carrots are cold-hardy and make a good fall crop. In some areas, they can be overwintered, and there are some varieties bred particularly for overwintering. They also store quite well. To keep carrots in storage, cut off the tops first.
Bite. Crunch. Enjoy. Know that you haven't let your soil defeat you.
Photo Credits: Thanks to the following DG members for the use of their photos from PlantFiles
Emaewest - 'Thumbelina'
jenhillphoto - 'Little Finger' and 'Sugarsnax54'
kennedyh - 'Red Cored Chantenay'
metallic - 'Scarlet Nantes'
pajaritomt - 'Caroline'
pnklace - 'Danvers Half Long'
rebecca101 - 'Mokum'
Forked Carrots - Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation