Carrots are incredibly useful in the kitchen. You can eat them on their own as a vegetable. They are also one of the magic trio of vegetables, along with onion and celery, which provide the basis for all kinds of soups and stews. Carrot, celery and onion fried in butter or oil is known in Italy as soffritto and is the base for most sauces.
The carrots you grow yourself will always taste better than the ones you buy in the supermarket. They are packed with essential minerals and vitamins, especially vitamin A, vitamin K, potassium, vitamin C, calcium and iron.
The beta-carotene which gives carrots their distinctive orange color is also the source of the vitamin A. Cooking carrots releases even more of the beta-carotene than eating them raw.
Although carrots are one of the most popular vegetables to grow at home, they are prone to a number of common problems. Every gardener will encounter problems with their carrots at some point.
In this article we’re going to look at the seven most common problems when growing carrots and offer some tips on how to avoid them.
The basics for growing carrots
Most problems with growing carrots comes from the condition of your soil. Carrots like loose, deep soil, enriched with plenty of organic matter.
Sow carrots seeds directly into light, sandy soil in rows which are 6” apart. The plants need to be around 2” apart in the rows, after thinning.
As with any vegetable, the better the soil, the better the end result. Take time to prepare your soil and make sure it is rich with microorganisms and nutrients.
A great way to produce fertilizer for your carrot beds is with Bokashi Composting, using a special compost bucket. Bokashi compost is made using a Japanese method created by Dr. Teruo Higa.
Collect all your food scraps in the bucket and add EM® Bokashi which kickstarts the composting process. EM® Bokashi can also be added to soil to improve the conditions for plant development. The microbes in the bokasi help to breakdown organic matter.
Mix compost into the soil around two weeks before you sow the carrot seeds. Make sure you loosen the soil with a fork as you add the compost.
You can also add all-natural EM-1® directly to soil as a liquid. This mix of yeasts and bacteria improves soil health and structure. The microorganisms in EM-1® increase the number of good microbes in the soil. This will help your carrot to be more resistant to pests and disease.
Carrots take around three to four months to grow. The exact time of year to sow seeds will depend on where you live. But the most popular time to sow the first seeds is around mid-March.
That first crop should be ready to harvest in June or July. You can keep sowing seeds every three weeks through to late July. Those final carrot will be ready to harvest in October or November.
In some climates you can continue sowing and harvesting carrots right through the winter.
Common problems growing carrots
1. Carrots not sprouting - Don’t plant carrot seeds too deep. The tiny seeds should be just under the surface of the soil. Once you’ve sowed them make sure you water them regularly. The temperature is less important. Carrots will germinate in soil temperatures ranging from 40F to 85F. That is why they have a long growing season.
2. Too many seeds have sprouted - Carrots need their own space. Because the seeds are so small it’s easy to sow too many. This is why thinning is absolutely essential. Once the small sprouts are showing, thin them out so each carrot has 2” of room on the row to itself. This will allow the carrot to benefit from all that rich soil you prepared. After harvesting carrots, before you sow the next set of seeds, enrich the soil again with EM-1® or EM® Bokashi
3. Carrots too small and stunted - The most likely reason for small carrots is that the soil is too dense. Your soil needs to be loose and sandy, and packed with nutrients. Soil condition is key. Prepare the soil at the start of the season by adding compost and turning it over with a fork. You can make your own compost using the EM® Bokashi method. If the soil is heavy with clay, mic in some sand to loosen it up.
4. Carrots full of holes / carrot fly - Small holes in your carrots are usually caused by carrot flies. The smell of carrots attracts carrot root flies who lay their eggs in the soil near the carrots’ shoulders. The larvae feed on the roots and leave small holes behind. You can reduce the risk of carrot fly by sowing the seeds thinly. This avoids the need for too much thinning out. When you pinch the seedlings, it releases a smell which attracts the female flies. Another tactic is to cover your plants with a fine net or fleece. It’s usually the first crop of carrots which gets attacked. Later carrots, sown from June onwards, usually avoid carrot fly. You can also reduce the risk by water weekly with EM-1®. The Effective microorganisms in the soil act as protectors against pests and disease.
5. Carrots twisting or forking - Deformed carrots are usually to do with soil condition. If the soil has any sticks, stones or other foreign objects, the carrot root is forced to grow around them. This is what causes the wonky shapes. These carrots will taste just as good as their better-looking siblings. But they won’t score any prizes for beauty. To avoid this problem, remove anything solid from the soil when you are preparing it. The ideal soil has the same even consistency throughout, so your carrots don’t encounter any surprises when they are growing!
6. Cracking and splitting - The roots of a carrot tend to crack and split when they are watered unevenly. Carrots prefer regular watering but not to excess. The worst thing you can do is over-compensate for a dry spell by watering heavily. Maintain a steady level of moisture by watering little and often. EM-1® helps with proper water infiltration and improves your plants tolerance to droughts or dry spells.
7. Green tops - Sometimes the shoulder of carrots (the bit which pokes above the ground) can turn green. This is because the carrot was exposed to too much sunlight. This is often because heavy rain has washed the soil away from the top of the carrots. Being exposed to sunlight causes the carrot to produce chlorophyll. When you spot any green shoulders it’s a sign that the carrot is ready to be harvested. You can eat the green section of a carrot quite safely, but you might prefer to just chop it off and use the orange part instead.
Other things that can go wrong with carrots
As with any plant or vegetable there’s a whole army of pests just waiting for an opportunity to feast on your carrots.
Slugs are relentless in their quest to munch on carrot leaves. The simplest way to deal with slugs is to pick them off by hand. If you are growing carrots in pots of raised beds this will be less of a problem. But in the ground, slugs can be a nuisance. To offer some protection, surround your young carrots with nets or fleece.
Another major carrot pest is aphids. As well as sucking the sap out of your carrots, they can carry viruses. You can pick aphids off by hand or try and spray them off using a mist or jet of water.
Do not let the list of potential problems deter you from growing carrots! Things can go wrong, but the reward is worth it when you grip the stalks and pull up a homegrown carrot.
Plant carrot seeds from March onwards, placing the seeds barely below the surface, 2” apart in rows which are 6” apart.
Work on the soil condition, ensuring it is loose and even with plenty of nutrients and organic matter. We recommend adding in compost you’ve made using our special bokashi compost bucket.
Water your carrots regularly while they are growing with EM-1® soil conditioner. Applying EM-1® can increase the size of the carrot roots, restore natural resistance to pests, encourage vigorous and robust growth and improve water absorption. Using EM-1® will also result in a higher brix content which improves the sweetness of your carrots. Carrots will also benefit from a spray of EM-1®.
Carrots are ready to harvest when they reach 1” in diameter. Just hold on to the bundle of stalks and pull them up. It’s easier to harvest carrots if you water the soil first.