We’re only a few days away from the darkest day of the year, when most people revel in lights, colors, celebration and social cheer… before we all hibernate in January when it’s coldest. But the holiday tinsel and ornaments aren’t the only bright spots in December. Slumbering beneath your garden are bright vegetable gems including one vegetable popular with all ages: sweet and crunchy carrots.
Along about late April or early May, people tell me they want to grow carrots. Carrot plants are pretty tough and most will survive an Alabama summer, but for tender and sweet carrots, fall is the best growing season with early spring a close second.
For fall growing, carrots should be direct seeded starting in late July and can be succession planted until late September if the soil remains warm enough for germination (50F or greater). With a maturity period from 60 to 90 days, that means you can be harvesting fresh carrots out of the garden at Christmastime and even beyond, depending on the weather. Despite one cold snap below 20F this fall, the weather has been ideal for carrots – lots of even moisture and overcast but bright days.
I harvested carrots yesterday and still have plenty left in the ground. When the next severe cold snap threatens, I’ll harvest any left in the garden, secure in the knowledge they will keep weeks in the refrigerator. Fresh homegrown vegetables in December? Yes, and they go quite nicely with the homegrown spinach, which is even more cold tolerant.
If you want to grow your own carrots, they like loose, well-drained soil high. While rocky soil doesn’t bother the carrot plants themselves, you might not like the strange shapes you get and the difficultly pulling them. So aim for soil that is smooth and friable, but it doesn’t need to be rich. Carrots are a light feeder, meaning they require little in the way of fertilizer. Mature compost mixed into the soil will provide enough nutrition.
Carrots send feeder roots 6-8 feet deep, so they are not well suited to container culture. If containers are all you have to grow with, make them deep and don’t crowd your seedlings.
Carrots grow well in early spring, too. Plan now to sow carrot seed mid-February, and you’ll be snacking on young carrots when many people are just starting to think about their gardens.