Carrots Are Tops
At the root of it, it just takes a little TLC to grow this nutritious and delicious garden veggie.
By Rachael Liska, Editor
Who would've guessed Bugs Bunny and Peter Rabbit are part of the healthy crowd? No, they don't pump iron...or excel at yoga. It's those carrots worked into their diet that puts spring into their step.
Chock-full of vitamins and fiber, the common carrot is a nutritional powerhouse. In fact, a 1/2-cup serving contains four times the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A, all in the form of disease-fighting beta-carotene. Oh, and unlike some healthy fad foods, carrots taste great, too.
If that's not enough, carrots also deserve kudos for their convenience and versatility. They can be eaten raw or cooked and are used in everything from soups and salads to cakes and juice.
Ready to grow them in your own garden? Here's how you can "hop" to it!
From the Ground Down. To successfully grow sweet healthy carrots, start with the soil. A well-prepared garden with deep loose soil allows the tasty roots to grow downward and fully develop. Otherwise, they may become stunted or misshapen.
To get your bed into carrot-top shape, lighten the soil with organic matter, such as compost or peat moss. Avoid fresh manure because it encourages deformed roots. Deeply till the amendments into the top 8 to 9 inches of soil, removing any rock or debris that may impede growth. If your soil is beyond help, consider creating a deep raised bed instead.
Proper Planting. Carrots are a cool-season crop and grow best when planted in early spring. For a continuous harvest, plant a new batch every 3 to 4 weeks until midsummer.
Sow no more than two or three seeds per inch to avoid overcrowding (it's not easy—the seeds are tiny). Plant them 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep in rows spaced 1 to 1-1/2 feet apart.
A few weeks after germination, when sprouts are about 1 inch tall, thin to two seedlings per inch for smaller-growing varieties, and one seedling per 1 to 2 inches for larger carrots.
Weed Patrol. Controlling weeds the first few weeks is essential to a young carrot's development. Neglect your weeding duties, and they'll overrun your tender crop. Just be careful not to dig too deep if using a hoe or hand cultivator. This could destroy the shallow-growing root of the carrot.
Instead, loosen the weeds along the soil's surface and hand-pull. Applying mulch between the rows when the carrots are established will also help.
Water Well. Carrots thrive when they receive consistent moisture from germination until harvest. So whether it comes from nature or your garden hose, make sure these thirsty root vegetables get 1 inch of water each week. It's best to soak the soil thoroughly, as this promotes good root development.
Harvest Time. All your work is a small price to pay for the crisp healthy treat that grows beneath your feet. To reap your reward in fall, push roots to the side and pull them out of the ground, or dig them out using a garden spade or fork.
Harvest smaller-growing carrots when the roots are at least 1/2 inch in diameter and larger-growing when 1 inch in diameter. And don't think you need to harvest the entire crop at once. Carrots can remain in the soil for weeks or more—and even well within the winter months if they are covered with a thick layer of mulch.
Keep Them Fresh. To store your bright orange bounty, wipe the carrots clean and cut the tops 1 inch above the root. Place in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator in perforated plastic bags or, if space is an issue, store in the garden in a pit insulated with straw.