Friday, March 08, 2013

Carrots in Containers-- It's Easy!

If you have a deep planter (a foot or so deep) you can be growing carrots in it year round.  In fact, the weather right now is just fine for getting carrots started, as the nights are consistently 40+ degrees F now.  Or you can bring the container indoors onto a porch or even inside the house until the carrots germinate and start putting out leaves.  Let's see how!

Carrots are fun and easy to grow, and while you can get a bag of them cheaply at the market, did you know how many KINDS of carrots there are that you can't get there?  There are yellow carrots, red carrots, even purple carrots, all with distinctly different sweet or even slightly spicy flavors.  It's utterly worth your while to find a nice container and grow yourself some carrots.

The picture above is of a large deep pot that I use for an eggplant in the summer, and put to work growing some carrots over the winter.  The long leaves in the middle are a single garlic plant, I had a spare clove and put it there for lack of a better place.  The two most important factors in a good carrot crop are the pot depth and heavily composting the pot.  If you don't have compost you can use a good organic plant food, but really good compost is easy to get bagged at the hardware store these days.

The pot should be 3 - 6 inches deeper than your carrots will be long.  If you are growing baby varieties like the French Baby Ball carrots, which only get 2 - 3 inches long, you can do them in a shallow 6-inch planter.  Mid-size carrots like Chantenay and Nantes Half Long are 5 - 6 inches in length and need a 9 - 12 inch planter.  Full size carrots like Yellow Sunshine or Atomic Purple (I am not making that up!) need a 12 - 15 inch deep planter.   I'm growing a full-size red carrot from North Africa called Maraca, so I'm using a 15 inch deep pot.

Put about half fresh potting soil and half compost into the pot and mix it up.  Then put a thin layer of compost on the surface.  You will seed the carrots onto the compost, and cover the seeds lightly with a very thin sprinkling of compost.  Why?  Because carrot seeds need moisture to germinate and compost holds moisture better than the raw potting soil.  Carrots can take up to 3 weeks to germinate, so it's important to have something that we don't have to water every single day until they come up!

When you seed the carrots, the seeds are tiny and hard to manage.  Put some in the palm of your hand and then use your thumb and forefinger to pinch up a few so you can sprinkle them loosely on the surface of your container.  You will likely have to thin them to an inch apart, so sprinkle widely.  When you have them all spread out on top, put a very thin, like 1/8 inch sprinkling of compost on top.  Now the fun, and a key to success-- tamp down the soil surface with the palm of your hand, or with the bottom of a mug or some other flat surface.  You want to make sure the seeds are in good contact with the compost and vice versa.   Now water gently but thoroughly to make sure the surface and the layers down about an inch are damp. 

Check every 3rd or 4th day and water again as needed.  You want to maintain moist but not wet conditions at the surface.   You can cover the surface with some floating row cover to help maintain moist conditions, but don't use solid plastic or you'll have issues with fungus as the soil won't be able to breathe.

Good luck, and try some awesome different kinds of carrots!  This one is a baby carrot I pulled to thin my carrot pot.  Note how it loses color towards the end and is still very short.   Pull carrots when they are deeply colored all down their length and have reached true maturity-- unless you need a snack!