Garden Notes: Carrots have reputation as difficult to grow for gardeners

“A fit of patriotism hundreds of years ago gave us the short end of the carrot stick.” – Jo Robinson, “Eating on the Wild Side”

Four hundred years ago, William of Orange lead the Dutch in a successful revolt against Spain. After many generations of war, William’s descendants, the House of Orange, secured the freedom of the Netherlands, and it became one of the first republics of Europe.

About that same time, the Dutch were in the throes of “tulip-mania,” and plant breeders were making huge leaps in the science of botany. One botanist decided to cross a mutant African yellow carrot with their local red carrot. Just as they hoped, the new carrot – their tribute to the House of Orange – became orange. And we’ve been eating orange carrots ever since.

Everyone loves them, but not many gardeners grow their own carrots. They have a reputation for being difficult, and Dr. John Navazio, the author of “The Organic Seed Grower: A Farmer’s Guide to Vegetable Seed Production” confirms that.

The secret, he said, is to assure your carrots “unchecked growth.” No rocks, no exposure to extremes of heat, cold or dryness.

That’s a pretty tall order, and a quick answer could be to grow short carrots. The “Paris Market” type carrots are short and round, and will grow unimpeded in the rockiest of gardens. “Amsterdams” look like a typical carrot, but are only 3 to 5 inches long and as big around as your thumb.

If your soil has a good tilth and you’ve been loading it with compost over the years, try a variety of “Danvers.” Dr. Navazio developed a Danvers type named “Dragon Purple,” a deep purple with a bright yellow interior and a slightly spicy flavor.

“Nantes” types are the most tender and the sweetest carrots, but need loose soil, as do the “Imperators,” the grocery store carrot. “Chantenay” types are the largest carrots, and need deep soil. Red Cored Chantenay will get as big as a coffee mug and grow 10 inches long.

Maybe 2014, the Year of the Horse, will be your year to successfully grow carrots. Try this. Dig a row about 3 inches wide and 8 inches deep. Fill it with a mixture of half sand, and a quarter each of compost and good quality topsoil. Plant varieties no longer than 5 to 6 inches unless you’re willing to dig a deeper trench.

Carrots need water more often than most seeds. A soaker hose and a floating row cover will make the job easier. One of the big problems with carrot seeds is their incredibly small size.

If your hands don’t do well with small seeds, you might want to try the easier-to-handle pelleted carrot seeds. They meet organic certification requirements. Or you can mix together carrot and radish or turnip seeds. Carrots can take up to two weeks to germinate, but radishes and turnips will be up in a few days, marking your row while providing crisp leafy salad greens.

Contact Teresa Futrick at