The ultimate carrot guide is where you’ll find tips for growing and caring for this versatile vegetable, the best varieties to grow, plus loads of recipes to both preserve and cook with fresh carrots.
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This carrot guide is a part of a continuing series of Ultimate Guides where you can find all kinds of growing information and delicious recipes for using a specific fruit or vegetable (both fresh and preserving ideas). See more fruit and vegetable guides here.
Carrots are one of the basic vegetables we all know and love – I mean everyone probably has a bag of baby carrots or a 2-pound bag of regular carrots in their fridge most of the time, right? It’s easy to get in a rut with them, though, only eating them with dip or slicing them for salads.
Well, this ultimate carrot guide will get you out of that rut – there are SO many amazing recipes I’ve pulled together for lots of different ways to eat carrots. Grated in a salad with feta? Check. Pickled? Check. As a sweet-sour relish? Yep.
The other super fun thing to do with carrots besides eating them is to grow them! There’s something kind of magical about pulling that green top up to reveal a long orange (or purple, or yellow, or…) root. Kids love it, so it’s usually one of the first seeds we like to grow in our gardens.
While they are easy to grow, there are a few tips that will make it easier to get the long roots and be able to pull them out without breaking – which of course you’ll find below, too.
I love carrots – both growing and eating – so I was super happy to be able to put this together for you as the latest installment of the Ultimate Guides series. Definitely pin this or bookmark it for future reference whenever you want to plant or deal with a harvest of carrots!
Ultimate Carrot Guide: Plant & grow
Types and Varieties of Carrots
When picking varieties of carrots to grow I like to think about what is harder to find in the store, like purple, yellow, and white carrots. There are also varieties that are really sweet but harder to harvest commercially, making them a good choice for the garden. And then there are varieties that are naturally small which are helpful if your garden doesn’t have deep loose soil needed for longer roots.
Here are some of the varieties I’ve grown and enjoyed (Note: these are all linked to one of my favorite seed companies, Pinetree Garden Seeds. If you order from them for the first time, use this link to get $5 off your first order.)
- Lunar White, 55 days (Fun to grow and use with other carrots, but we didn’t like the flavor on it’s own.)
- Parisian Heirloom, 55 days (Round carrot perfect for harder soil.)
- Rainbow Carrot, 57 days (Hybrid that produces yellow, coral, white, and orange roots all from same seed.)
- Sugar Snax, 63 days
- Tendersweet Heirloom, 70 days
- Red Cored Chantenay, 75 days
- Atomic Red, 76 days
- Dragon, 85 days (Purple skin, orange interior.)
- Kuroda, 110 days
TIP #1: Choose 3-4 varieties that mature early, mid, and late season to be able to harvest for a long period from one sowing and not be swimming in mature carrots all at once (though if you are, there are plenty of preserving recipes below for you to try!).
How to Grow Carrots
- Carrots are a cool weather crop, so plant about three weeks before your last frost date. Zones 8 and up can plant as fall or overwintered crops, too.
- There are two options for continued harvests: 1) Plant 3 varieties that mature at early, mid and late season all in one sowing, OR 2) Succession sow carrots that mature at roughly the same time, sowing single rows 2-3 weeks apart through June (or the month that is about 3 months before your first frost date).
- Carrots do not do well with transplanting, so it is always recommended to sow seeds outdoors.
- You’ll need a loose soil to grow the best carrots – I always suggest a raised bed of some sort filled with a light soil to make growing and harvesting easier. If your only option is to grow in regular soil, amend as much as you can and grow shorter varieties.
- Carrot seed are small, so plant them shallowly, 1/4” deep or less. I like to make very shallow rows with a trowel and then just cover the seeds with a fine compost or soil.
- Soil temperature should be between 50-80 degrees – the cooler the soil the longer it takes for germination, up to 3 weeks. But it really takes 2-3 weeks to germinate anyway, which is long compared to other seeds. That’s why the traditional recommendation has been to plant along with radish seeds (which you see in the far right row of carrots and radishes above – the other rows are peas and beets) – the quick germinating radishes mark the row and then mature before the carrots are very big.
- Keep carrots seeds moist to avoid the soil crusting over. This is very important for seed sprouting – and one of the reasons it’s always been hard for me to sow carrots for the fall in July, it’s just so dry usually. Try using row covers or even wood boards covering the rows until they germinate to hold in moisture.
- When the sprouts are 1-2″ tall, thin to about 3″ apart for the biggest carrots. They do not like overcrowding, so thinning is important. Sometimes I will do a first thinning at the 1-2″ tall mark, but only 1 inch apart and then another thinning at a 4-5″ mark, saving these to use a tender baby carrots.
- Keep the rows well weeded and cover any exposed carrot with soil to prevent the shoulders from greening.
Sometimes nothing happens after sowing and you may wonder,
Why are my carrots not growing?
There are a number of reasons that may cause your carrots now growing or forming well:
- The soil wasn’t kept evenly moist in the weeks after sowing the seeds. Solution: use covers and soaker hoses on timers to help keep the ground moist.
- Animals digging disrupted germination (squirrels, birds, rabbits). Solution: cover the bed or area with row cover or chicken wire until tops are about 3-4 inches tall.
- Soil is too heavy, causing stunted and forked roots. Solution: build a raised bed for root crops or amend your garden soil as much as possible.
- Overcrowding – carrots weren’t thinned when they should’ve been. Solution: thin as soon as the tops are 1-2 inches tall. If you find thinning difficult – either too time consuming or feel like you’re “wasting” plants – consider seed tape for carrots.
Why did some of the roots split down the middle?
You also may wonder about splitting roots (like you can see in a few of the carrots in my crop in these photos). That can be caused by two things:
- Lack of even watering – carrots don’t like dry or waterlogged. Sometimes you can’t do much about that if it rains a lot. Other than that, the solution is pretty easy: provide 1 inch of water per week to help the carrots grow quickly, but to prevent cracking of carrots.
- The soil is too rich (too much compost or manure) and/or doesn’t have enough sand or loose soil. Solution: go easy on amendments where you’ll be planting carrots and try adding sand.
I’ve found the following books helpful in learning how to care for carrots and other vegetables:
- Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening
- Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades
- Square Foot Gardening
- The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible
Depending on the variety, carrots should be ready to pull in 2-4 months. I like to pull back the soil to see how big the root top is – if it’s at least a 1/2-inch to 1-inch in diameter (again, depending on the variety), it should be ready. Of course you can harvest them at a smaller stage and call them baby carrots – it’s up to you.
Mature carrots can stay in the ground for 2-3 weeks without getting fibrous, so you don’t have to pick them all at once. Though my experience is that they mature at different times, even the same variety in one row. It’s fun to go out and harvest a handful every couple of days! But you’ll want to pick spring-sown carrots as they mature since the warm ground may cause them to spoil.
What about leaving them in the ground when it’s cold?
You may have heard that carrots are sweeter if left in the garden until after a frost. This is true of carrots grown for a fall harvest (usually seeded in July-August), but not spring sown carrots. Do pull all spring sown carrots as they mature.
For fall carrots, you can leave them until after a first frost and harvest then. If you live in mild winter areas, you can store them in the ground (though I have found our wet weather doesn’t allow for this – they just split and rot).
Here are my tips for harvesting carrots without breaking the roots (which can happen with longer carrots), pictured above:
- Water well before you know you will be picking if it hasn’t rained. It’s much easier to pull the roots out of moist soil.
- Use a trowel to loosen the soil around the carrot root – all the way around the root without touching the root.
- Grasp the carrot tops and gently move the root back and forth in the soil, pulling up slowly as you do.
Carrots will keep 2-3 months in the refrigerator. Remove the carrot tops, wash the dirt off and let them dry. Then package them in plastic or produce bags and store in the crisper. Leaving the tops on the carrots for long may cause them to become limp.
If you have a cold cellar, you can keep the carrots stored for a few months in buckets of sand with roots covered.
Cook & Preserve Carrot Recipes
Hot & Sweet Carrot Relish Freezer Preserves (Freezer) @ AOC
Easiest Fermented Pickled Carrots & Vegetables (Refrigerator) @ AOC
Canned Sweet Pickled Carrots @ The Kitchen Magpie
Pressure Canning Carrots @ Fresh Preserving
Canned Glazed Carrots (Pressure Canning) @ Genius Kitchen
Ginger Pickled Carrots (Water Bath Canning) @ Healthy Seasonal Recipes
Carrot Cake Jam (Water Bath Canning) @ Wicked Good Kitchen
How to Freeze Carrots Easily @ Pick Your Own
How to Freeze Unblanched Carrots @ Livestrong
Carrot Jam (Refrigerator) @ Food & Wine
Pickled Dilly Carrots Recipe (Water Bath Canning) @ Serious Eats
Mexican Style Pickled Carrots (Refrigerator) @ Tasting Table
How to Preserve and Use Carrot Tops @ Farm to Table (Don’t throw out the tops! They are full of nutrients, too.)
Quart Jar Cabbage & Carrot Kraut (Refrigerator) @ Food in Jars
How to Dehydrate Carrots (Commercial Dehydrator) @ Simply Canning
Drying Carrots in the Oven @ The Spruce Eats
Cooking & Baking Recipes
Salt Roasted Carrots @ Jessica in the Kitchen
Honey Roasted Carrots @ Dinner At the Zoo
Garlic Parmesan Roasted Carrots @ Cafe Delites
Perfect Roasted Carrots 3 Ways @ Cookie & Kate
Glazed Carrots @ Jessica Gavin
Ina Garten’s Sauteed Carrots @ The Food Network
Slow Cooker Roasted Carrots @ The Chunky Chef
Roasted Carrot Soup @ Well Plated
Bacon Roasted Carrots @ How Sweet Eats
Healthy Baked Carrot Chips @ A Spicy Perspective
Curry Roasted Carrots with Peanut Sauce @ Minimalist Baker
Crispy Carrot Fingers @ It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken
Baked Carrot Fries Recipe @ Delish
Paleo Roasted Carrot Noodles @ America’s Test Kitchen
Instant Pot Carrots @ Pressure Cooker Recipes
Classic Carrot Salad Recipe @ Simply Recipes
Bombay Carrot Salad with Cashews and Raisins @ Feasting at Home
French Grated Carrot Salad with Lemon Dijon Vinaigrette @ Once Upon a chef
Creamy Carrot Salad @ Spend with Pennies
Moroccan Raw Carrot Salad @ Epicurious
Healthy Mashed Carrots @ Tastes Lovely
Carrot Top Recipes
Carrot Top Pesto @ Simply Recipes
Carrot Top Salsa @ Farm To Table
Carrot Top Chimichurri @ Love and Lemons
Carrot Top Tabouli Salad @ Abra’s Kitchen
Sweet Baking Recipes
Carrot Cake Skillet Blondie Recipe @ Good Housekeeping
Carrot Cake Cookies @ Delish
Carrot Cake Cookie Cups @ Tornadough Alli
Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls @ Joy The Baker
Whole Grain Chocolate Carrot Cupcakes @ Texanerin
Gluten Free Carrot Pineapple Muffins (dairy free, sugar free) @ Simply Gluten Free
Carrot Cake Cheesecake @ Cooking Classy
Flourless Carrot Cake @ Diethood
The Best Carrot Cake @ Gimme Some Oven
Waffled Carrot Cake Recipe @ The Food Network
Italian Carrot Cake @ Kitchn
Carrot Apple Bread @ Averie Cooks
Cream Cheese Swirled Carrot Cake Bars @ Le Creme do la Crumb
Carrot Cake Coffee Cake @ Crazy for Crust
Healthy Carrot Cake Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies @ Amy’s Healthy Baking
Carrot Cake Energy Balls @ Detoxinista
Healthy Applesauce Carrot Muffins @ Mel’s Kitchen Cafe
Spiced Carrot Muffins @ Martha Stewart
I hope you enjoyed this Ultimate Carrot Guide. Check out some of the other Ultimate Guides below – all with 30-50 recipes – or go here to see them all:
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