By Ty Purcell
In January of 2011 I purchased some carrot seed with the intent of planting them in my garden. That didn’t happen. However, my three year old son really wanted to grow carrots thanks to a Curious George™ cartoon he had seen. So, in late October, I apprehensively set out to plant carrots with my son’s help. My belief was that carrots would be hard to grow. I also anticipated them freezing due to planting them so late. Happily my conceptions and beliefs about our carrot planting adventure were not true.
When I bought the carrot seed, I purchased a variety called Danvers 126, which was supposed to perform well in clay soils. It is also one of the carrot varieties that Texas AgriLife Extension recommends in its publication “Easy Gardening – Carrots” (PDF available below).
If you have never seen a carrot seed, they are very small and can take between fourteen and twenty-one days to germinate. This makes it hard to get consistent spacing within the row and germination rates may be lower. So we used two techniques I had read about to give us a better chance of success: Sprouting prior to planting and Fluid Seeding. I had read of one method of planting small seed that involved pre-sprouting the seed and then using a technique called Fluid Seeding to gently and consistently plant the sprouted seed.
Since carrot seeds take a while to germinate and it was getting cold outside, I opted to sprout the seed in the warmth of the house and then plant them. Sprouting occurred in just a few days and was not very difficult. I placed a portion of the seed in the packet in the bottom of a glass jar. A small amount (about two inches) of water was added, the seed/water solution was “swirled” around carefully to ensure all the seed got wet, and the carrot seed was allowed to sink to the bottom. It was necessary to use a long, thin object to convince some of the seed to sink. After they were all on the bottom the water was slowly and carefully poured out. I often had to use my hand as a strainer to keep the seed from being poured down the drain and then use my finger to get the seed back to the bottom of the jar. The jar lid, with a few holes in it, was placed back on the jar. The goal is to let the seed have air, while keeping them moist. Each night I repeated the process by covering the seeds with fresh water, “swirling”, and draining the water. A good place to keep the jar is on top the refrigerator – it is normally warmer there, allowing for better germination. Check them twice a day for signs of sprouting.
A raised bed of normal soil and compost was prepared for the carrots. The bed was readied by digging deeply to loosen the soil, removing any rocks and sticks, and then mixing in the compost. The compost consisted of composted poultry manure and organic material. Additional fertilizer was not added.
If you have seen a new lawn that looks like it has been painted green you have seen a similar method to Fluid Seeding. Landscapers often call this Hydroseeding or Hydromulching. Luckily, the method used on small seed requires no fancy tools; it used water, cornstarch, and a plastic sandwich bag. An article by Carl Wilson, Denver County, Colorado Extension Agent that describes this method is available below at the “Fluid Seeding” link. For best results plant the sprouted seed as soon as possible after mixing with the water/cornstarch mix.
After making the water/corn starch mixture a little too thick (my error) we were ready to plant. I scientifically drug my finger through the top of the soil about one-third to one-half of an inch deep to make our rows. We then snipped the corner off of the plastic bag and squeezed the seed/fluid mixture out as we moved along the row. It was like squeezing a tube of toothpaste – don’t squeeze too hard. The sprouted seed were successfully planted and then covered them with about one-third of an inch of soil. The soil was lightly tamped with a rake and watered with a very fine mist. We watered daily with a fine mist until the carrots were up.
The carrots started popping up on the surface with three or four days. Very soon we had four nice rows established. Mulch was added to assist with moisture retention and to suppress weeds.
After this we didn’t do much. We checked to make sure the surface remained moist, but thanks to the mulch and natural precipitation we didn’t have to water much at all. After the carrot tops started to grow together we went through and thinned them out so that they were spaced a couple of inches apart. This thinning resulted in quite a few small carrots that tasted wonderful. However, due to the cold weather, they grew more slowly that indicated on the package. After more than four months we have begun harvesting carrots and are preparing to plant more for a spring run.
We hope you will consider planting carrots in your home garden. They are surprisingly easy, taste great, and really make gardening with children fun.