Hardiness Zone: 11
Penny from Johanesburg, South Africa
Carrots, like most other roots crops, like deep, loose soil that retains moisture, but drains well. Carrots are highly sensitive to compacted soils, shallow soils and soils that are cloddy and or contain a lot of rocks. They will sometimes develop forks in response to encountering hard, heavy soils or rocks while growing. For this reason, it's best to plant them in an area of the garden that has loose soil and sees less foot traffic. Areas immediately next to walking paths or near garden boarders tend to have more compact soil. You can easily get around poor soil problems by growing carrots in raised beds or in containers that are at least 12 inches deep.
Carrots do appreciate nutrient-rich soil, but fresh manure also causes roots to fork, so make sure to add well-rotted manure or finished compost to the soil several weeks before planting. Carrots can be side-dressed with compost again mid-season. Make sure to rotate crops. Carrots should not be grown in the same location in the garden more than once every three years. This reduces incidents of carrot rust flies and bacterial soft rot.
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Carrots require well drained, friable soil, preferably sandy. It's a good idea to plant carrots where a leguminous, crop (nitrogen fixing eg; beans) has been grown previously.
Sow carrot seeds during the warmer months, from spring to mid autumn. Early autumn is my preferred time to sow because the carrots will have reached a good size before growth is inhibited by the cold winter weather. Also, there are no storage problems during winter because the carrots can be left in the ground.
If the soil is rich in organic matter, the carrot roots will fork out as they search for nutrients, so don't dig in organic matter prior to planting.
Carrot seeds are small and it can be hard to sow them evenly and then to see where they've actually been sown. It's a good idea to mix a packet of seeds with a handful of sand, then spread the mixture evenly in shallow drills. Backfill lightly and water. Keep the seeds damp for a couple of weeks or until they've germinated. Don't let them dry out or you'll lose them.
Different varieties of carrot require different spacing between plants. So pinch out extra seedlings to space plants at the distance recommended on the seed packet. 20 to 30cm between rows is usually sufficient.
Because carrots can't be mulched, I find that weeds can be a problem. Keep the weeds down with regular cultivation during warmer months so the carrots don't have to compete with weeds for nutrients. Weeds are of course less of a problem during the colder months.
Carrots and any of the onion family are good companions.
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