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The Complete Raised Bed Carrot Growing Guide

Growing carrots in traditional garden beds gives some gardeners fits. They can be tricky to germinate and don't transplant well. But, once you get it down pat, the joy of a fresh, crisp carrot straight from the garden will convince you to keep going. 

Fortunately, the biggest carrot growing problem for most folks is the soil, which is the best benefit of growing carrots in raised beds. In fact, growing carrots in raised beds is probably better than in-ground for most locations. We'll look at choosing suitable varieties, preparing the raised bed soil, planting seeds, caring for, and harvesting these nutrient-packed veggies. 

Benefits of Raised Beds for Carrots

Raised beds can be ideal for growing carrots when properly prepared. Loose stone-free soil and good drainage are key components for growing carrots well, and both are benefits of raised beds. A single raised bed of carrots can provide a hefty yield. 

The precision control over the soil in a raised bed offers the opportunity to tailor-make a bed just right for growing a batch of carrots. Weed pressure is lower, and weeding takes less time and effort in raised beds. Drainage is not a problem, and you’ll find the soil warms quicker in the spring for early planting.

Choosing the Right Carrot Variety For Raised Beds

Carrots come in all sizes, shapes and colors, not just the long, tapered orange shapes in the produce section. When selecting carrot varieties, you can choose from heirloom and hybrid carrots. Hybrid carrots are often disease-resistant and have been selected for superior characteristics—flavor, color, maturity time, or size. But there are tons of amazing and flavorful heirloom varieties, too, and unless you plan on saving seed, it won't matter much. You likely won't run out soon with hundreds of seeds per packet, so choose the ones that intrigue you the most and conduct a carrot-experiment.

Long carrots need deep beds, while short ones can be grown with less soil. Carrots are often referred to by type, which can get confusing. Here are some explanations and suitable raised bed suggestions for the different types of carrots.

Imperator 

With long roots, these carrots need deep soil or tall-sided raised beds. They are excellent for fresh eating, with lots of sugars for a sweet carrot taste. Try Tendersweet and Sugarsnax 54

Danvers

Classic tapered carrots of modest size. If you drew a carrot in kindergarten, this would be the one. They store well and need less soil than longer Imperator types. Try Danvers Half-Long and Cosmic Purple

Nantes

Nantes type carrots are coreless, meaning they have a fine grain and are less likely to get woody. They're deliciously sweet and are fantastic for munching fresh or juicing. Try Coreless Nantes or Little Finger

Chantenay

Shorter and stubby, these carrots will not need as much depth beneath them to mature. They store very well and have excellent flavor, but they are better eaten cooked than raw. Try Red-Cored Chantenay.

Baby

With edible roots commonly round or only a few inches long, these carrots are perfect for shallower soils and containers—and they're fun to grow! Try Thumbelina and Paris Market

Preparing Your Raised Bed for Carrots

If you already have a raised bed, preparing for carrots won't require much work—maybe adding a bit more soil and compost. If you're planning a new bed, here are a few things to consider. 

Soil for Growing Carrots in Raised Beds

Carrots need deep, loamy, loose soil. If they encounter stones, roots, or heavy soil like clay, they'll be either funny-shaped or short and stubby. Raised beds at least 10 inches deep (12 inches is better) are perfect. If your bed walls aren't that tall, you can mound the soil up in the center and plant carrots there, with other crops planted at the edges. 

Work in plenty of compost when preparing a raised bed for carrots. It helps with drainage, provides nutrients, and keeps the soil structure loose. Avoid filling raised beds with bags of 'garden soil' or other heavier material meant for in-ground use. These products will compact in a raised bed, making it hard for carrots, or anything else, to grow properly. 

For larger raised beds, a mix of screened topsoil and compost purchased by the yard from a nursery can keep the expense down and eliminate the problem of disposing of dozens of bags. 

Sun and Drainage Requirements

Like most vegetables, carrots will do best in full sun, at least six hours per day, but eight or more is better. They'll tolerate a bit of shade, but it's bright sunshine that makes big, tasty roots. Remember, all that carrot energy stored below had to be made from sunlight up above. Without enough sun, you'll have small, spindly carrots. 

Drainage is supremely important to prevent root rot. While carrots need soil moisture, soggy conditions will cause root rot. A good soil mix and plenty of compost should alleviate drainage problems in raised beds. If you are growing carrots in a large container on a patio, ensure the drainage holes in the bottom are not plugged.

It's Planting Time 

Carrots grow best in the cooler temperatures of spring and fall and struggle with hot summer weather. Fortunately, they are frost-tolerant and will survive temperatures as low as 20F.  Many gardeners, myself included, think fall carrots harvested after a few cold and frost nights are the best tasting. 

Most carrots mature in about seventy days, although they can be pulled and eaten before reaching peak size (and they’ll be more tender). Some smaller varieties of baby carrots are ready in as little as 55 days. Knowing how long your carrots will take to mature will help you figure out when to plant them in autumn. Northern gardeners often plant carrots in spring or fall, while southern gardeners usually do better with an autumn planting. 

Carrots can be succession planted, if your weather patterns permit, for a prolonged harvest period. Plant a new row every two weeks. Be patient—carrot seeds can take three weeks to germinate. Don’t give up on them!

Planting and Spacing for Carrots in Raised Beds

Carrot seeds are tiny and can be hard to accurately plant. Instead of trying to count out and space individual carrot seeds, try this:

  1. Mix a handful of radish seeds in with your carrot seeds. The radishes will germinate faster and serve as row markers for the slower-growing carrots. They'll also modify the soil environment by preventing it from crusting over. You'll harvest the radishes before they compete too much with the carrots.
  2. Combine the seeds with a bit of dry sand and thoroughly mix together. 
  3. Sprinkle the seed-sand mix in wide rows over the area you will plant.
  4. Lightly cover the seeds with about ¼ inches of soil, and press gently to firm the bed and ensure good seed-to-soil contact. 
  5. Apply a thin coating of mulch to help maintain soil moisture and prevent soil crusting at the surface. 

Little carrot seedlings don't have enough oomph to punch through crusted soil caused by raindrop impact and sunshine. A thin layer of shredded leaves, grass clippings, or pine needles will shade the soil and prevent the crust from forming.

Once the carrots pop up and are an inch or two tall, you'll need to thin them out. Remove enough carrots to gain about a 1–2 inch spacing. Use scissors and just snip them off. Pulling them out can damage the nearby carrots. Thin in a couple waves, whenever they get crowded, and your final thinning can be harvested for use as baby carrots. 

How to Fertilize Carrots

Carrots are not heavy feeders, and in fact, too much nitrogen can make them woody and decrease root size. If you worked in a good helping of compost when prepping the bed, your carrots may not need fertilizer. However, a drink of compost tea every two weeks will keep them perky. 

Companion Planting for Carrots

Carrots are fantastic companion plants for taller crops above the ground, as they need space close to the soil and below. Besides radishes, perfect companion plants include tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and marigolds. 

If you haven't read the book "Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening" by Louise Riotte, it's worth checking out. 

Harvesting and Storing Your Carrots

Carrots can be harvested early for a sweet treat, but of course, that reduces your final haul. To check their readiness, part the foliage with your hands and look at the base. If nicely formed carrots with good color and fat "shoulders" are just poking up out of the soil, they're likely ready. 

Spring-planted carrots may start to bolt or send up a flower in hot weather as they mature. If your carrots are bolting, it's time to harvest. The sugars and other good stuff that gives carrots their wonderful flavor will be redirected to flowering and making seeds, and you'll end up with small, tough, bitter carrots that leave you unhappy.

Fall-planted carrots can be left in the ground even after frost kills the tops. In the old days, storing carrots and other root vegetables right out in the garden soil was common. However, to preserve their texture, pull them up before the ground freezes or cover them with a thick layer of mulch. 

When it's time to harvest your carrots, you'll be glad you grew them in raised beds. The loose soil means they can usually be grasped at the base of the stem and gently pulled free. Knock off any attached soil (it's too good to waste). 

If you are going to store them, remove the tops by twisting them off. If left on to dry, the tops will drain the carrots of moisture. It's okay to store them in the fridge for a day or two with the tops on if you like, although they'll take up space. Compost the tops, or just drop them where the carrots were to decompose naturally.

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