The Great Carrot Experiment....

ezzirah011(7a)September 19, 2012

I got carrots to germinate and grow well this last spring, but have not had any luck so far in the fall raised beds. So here is what I did for the fall. (it is probably too late, but that is ok, I will cover them with a low tunnel.

I got some egg cartons and cut the top off the carton, put coconut coir where the eggs would go, sowed the seed, then put them in a plastic bag, got them to germinate, then immediately put them outside under a little shelter I made with a dark screen over it (like what would go on a screen door) to harden them off.

They are still under the screen, I am going to keep them there for a week, raising and lowering the screen.

Then I plan on planting transferring them VERY CAREFULLY in the ground.

I am thinking this should work, what does everyone else think? If this works I am repeating it for the fall.

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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


You can raise carrot seedlings and transplant them into the ground. It works pretty well. The sooner you put them into the ground after they sprout, the better. It works best if you start the plants in plantable pots like peat pots, newspaper pots or paper cups with the bottoms cut out, or in soil blocks made from a soil block maker. That reduces transplant shock.

It sure is a lot of trouble to go to, though. I have done it twice, just to see if I could, but I don't routinely do it. When I did it, the first time I used the cardboard paper tubes saved from rolls of toilet paper, paper towel and wrapping paper. I cut the length of the larger tubes to be similar to the length of the ones from rolls of toilet paper. The other time I tried it was with 3 oz. paper cups. The cardboard tubes worked better because of their greater depth. In something more shallow, the roots are too crowded within a few days of sprouting, which is why transplanting them quickly is important. Carrots develop their mature length within about 4-6 weeks after sprouting, and then develop their width slowly over a few more weeks, so the longer they are kept in a starter flat that is shallow, the less length they'll be able to achieve.

My preferred way to plant carrots is to scatter sow them in a prepared bed underneath and around something else like tomato plants, mist them daily until they sprout and then leave them alone until it is time to thin them. I do try to keep the soil evenly moist until they germinate, but as much as possible I keep it a little on the drier side the first few weeks because too much moisture at that point gives you shorter root length. Keeping them evenly moist but not too wet throughout the rest of their life is important. You want to avoid fluctuations between them being too wet and too dry because that gives you carrots that split and crack.

I often use carrots as 'filler plants' or as a form of living ground cover in spring. Because they finish up early, they are harvested and out of the ground before the larger plants get very big and then the larger tomato or pepper or whatever other plants are there will spread out and take over the space once occupied by carrots.

In the fall, I scatter sow carrots around transplants of broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, kale, collards, etc. When I thin them, I remove all the ones that are too close to the transplants. I don't thin all at once. I thin gradually so that I can be harvesting and using tiny baby carrots over a fairly long period of time.

I tend to get better harvests of lettuce, spinach and carrots by scatter-sowing the seed underneath other established plantings than by giving them a prepared and carefully planted bed of their own. For many years, that was the only way I planted spinach, lettuce and carrots.

As far as keeping them going under a low tunnel when cold weather arrives, it can work but you have to be careful that the temperatures don't get too hot during the day (the greenhouse effect) or too cold at night or they'll bolt. You need to do what you can to keep them temperature consistently above 45 degrees at night. Carrots are biennials, so once they are exposed to temperatures at or below 45 degrees for a prolonged period of time, they will go dormant. Then, when the temperatures warm up, they'll quickly flower.

If your low tunnel is covered with greenhouse or similar plastic, it is easy for it to get too hot during the day, so you have to monitor it carefully. If your low tunnel is covered with a frost blanket-weight floating row cover, remember that it only gives you 6 to 8 degrees of protection at best, or maybe 10 degrees if you buy DeWitt's heaviest available weight of frost blanket. Using two layers of frost blanket give additional protection from the cold, but it does not precisely double the amount of protection. Carrots are in good shape until they're exposed to the mid-20s though, so with floating row cover you ought to be able to harvest your mature carrots in November or December, depending on their DTMs.


    Bookmark   September 19, 2012 at 12:45PM
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Thank you for your thoughtful reply!

It seems every time I try to scatter sow carrots they never germinate! I remember one year I put scatter sowed them in my raised bed that has the best soil in it, and they did NOTHING. Even keeping them moist. It's crazy. Last year I got a good little crop of carrots, but I put them in their own bed, covered with plastic. But that was the spring garden. I was scared they would just cook for the fall.

Don't they still have to be hardened off even as little sprouts?

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 6:02AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

You're welcome. They do need hardened off as sprouts. The way to get around that in the future is to move them outside the very moment you have your very first green sprout. At that point, even though you cannot see them, the other seeds are sprouted underneath the soil surface and will pop up in the next day or two. The outdoor heat, at that point, won't stop them because they're too far along in the germination process indoors. If you keep your container of seedlings indoors until all of them sprout, the early sprouters are going to sunburn in the sun if you don't harden them off. I thoroughly hate hardening off stuff. I know it is necessary, but it can be tedious, and that's especially true the more flats you have to worry about.

When I sprout something indoors for the fall garden, I move the flat outside onto a table strategically placed under a smallish oak tree so the plants get morning sun, midday shade and late afternoon sun. The ones that have sprouted will grow well in that sort of mixed sunlight, and they get enough light to grow well without roasting in a full day of late summer/early autumn heat. Even if I move a flat out with only 1 or 2 seedlings up, the others are up within a couple of days and none of them need to be hardened off.

When I scatter sow carrot seeds, I sprinkle the seeds around and then use a rake to lightly move the seeds and soil around just enough that the soil barely covers the seeds. The technique I use with raking varies depending on whether I scatter-sowed in an empty bed or in a bed that has some other plants already in it.

In an empty bed, I first water lightly so the soil is moist, but don't get it so wet that it packs down into mud. Then I scatter sow carefully and as evenly as possible. Using a rake, I rake up and down the length of the row, but not horizontally across the width of the row. If you rake back and forth across the shorter width of the bed, often all the carrot seeds end up along either edge right beside the boards that hold the soil in the raised bed, which is a disaster. When that happens, you end up with oodles of seedlings to thin right along the board edging of the beds, and the beds are empty in the middle. Raking up and down lightly for the length of the bed keeps the seeds out there in the bed itself. I rake carefully and lightly. You want to move small amounts of soil that just barely cover the seeds. If they are covered too deeply, they won't germinate. If they are left bare, they dry out too much and won't germinate. They need good contact with moist soil and they need to just barely, barely, barely be covered with soil.

If I have scatter-sowed under existing plants, raking is harder. Instead of using a large garden rake, I use a small hand-held soil cultivator/rake that is about the size of a hand-held trowel. Otherwise the technique is the same.

You have clay? If you do, it is very hard and almost impossible for carrot seeds to germinate without help because the clay soil crusts over and the tiny carrot seedlings cannot break through the crust of the soil. To plant in raised beds with a heavier clay content, I use a few 'tricks' to help the seeds sprout. One of my favorites is to scatter sow radish seeds all over the place with the carrot seeds. Radishes sprout more quickly and break through the crust of the soil, sort of paving the way for the carrots. Or, I make shallow trenches about the width of my thumb and maybe a quarter-inch deep. I sow the seeds, spacing one about every quarter-inch to half-inch. Then I use pure compost or Black Kow composted cow manure straight out of the bag to lightly cover the seeds and water lightly with the "mist" setting on my watering wand or with water from a watering can. If you use the hose it often washes out the seeds. The disadvantage to covering with such a light soil-less compost is that it dries out fast, but the advantage is that the compost doesn't crust over and get hard like clay soil does. I mist the carrot seed bed several times daily until the seeds germinate, and I never use anything stronger than mist because a heavier water flow either carries the seeds away or pushes them down too deeply into the soil.

In a year when I have the time, I make my own carrot seed tape in winter and then after the tape is dry I store it in an airtight container while awaiting the right soil temperatures for planting. The tape makes it easy to space the seeds properly. At planting time, I prepare the bed, make little trenches, put the seed tape in the trenches and wet the seed tape thoroughly before covering it with soil. Then I rake the soil over the seed tape and lightly mist that soil. The paper used in the seed tape holds the moisture close to the carrots underground and they sprout pretty quickly. Since you have the tape 'holding' the seed in place, it doesn't get washed down too deeply into the soil if heavy rainfall occurs and it doesn't wash away. I love seed tape and you can make it from toilet paper or paper towels, your choice, and just use homemade paste made from water/flour. Sometimes I make seed tapes for lettuce and other greens too.

Carrots can be quite vexing. It seems like the harder a person has to work to get them to germinate and grow, the more poorly they perform. That's why I like to scatter sow them, mist them, and otherwise ignore them. If they think (not that plants think, or at least we cannot prove that they do or don't think) I am obsessing over them, they will not grow. If I casually scatter them and act like I do not care if they grow or not, they do great.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 11:05AM
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Love the seed tape idea!!! That is a for sure try this coming spring!

I agree, this time around is my 4 or 5th try to get those things to germinate and about as many packs of seeds the little buggers!

Ok...I am going to give all this a try and see what happens!


    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 2:12PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

You're welcome.

I hope you get a bountiful carrot harvest. If they resist growing well in the ground, just grow them in a container. They do great in containers.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 2:41PM
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