Carrots are a real treat in the garden and are simple to grow from seed. Rows of carrots are a vegetable garden standard and this orange vegetable is very nutritious, high in beta carotene and good for your eyesight (according to the old wives' tale). Enjoy carrots for their portability and grow them for the little ones in the house. Kids love eating raw carrots with dips or plain. Carrots are roasted, boiled, steamed and cooked in stews, soups and even cake. This vegetable can be grown in tiny locations or expansive plots. Versatile, simple and downright tasty, carrots are a backyard suburban farmer’s delight. Best Soil For Growing Carrots Carrots like to grow in well drained, loose soil that’s full of humus. Heavy clay or rocky soil won’t work as well, although carrots have been known to grow in less than optimum conditions. The fruit will bend and grow crooked if it hits a hard bit of soil, but will still be entirely edible. Try to make the soil as fine as possible by turning it over repeatedly when it dries out to a depth of 6 to 8”. A raised bed is the best plan for carrots as you have complete control over the soil added and can keep the plants up off the level ground, deterring pests and weeds. When to Plant Carrots Carrots are fairly hardy and can take some cold or even frost. It is recommended to sow your carrot seeds around two weeks before the last frost. You can also sow staggered batches of seeds every three weeks from that point for a more continuous harvest over the summer months. How to Plant Carrots Sow carrot seeds directly into the garden. Prepare the bed as directed above and dig a shallow trench of about 1” deep along your row. Scatter carrot seeds into that trench at a rate of 4 seeds per inch. Sprinkle vermiculite, perlite or filtered, fine compost onto the seeds to cover. Often, gardeners lay a floating row cover over the carrot patch to keep the soil evenly moist. You could water each day, but it must be gentle enough that you don’t risk the newly sown seeds running away with the water. Once the seeds sprout in about 3 weeks, the row cover can come off and regular watering procedures can start. Sow rows of carrot seeds about 9” apart. Creating a hill or mound to plant the seeds in will result in a better carrot. Do that in the prep stage and then sow as usual, but dig the trench into the hills or mounds you created. Proper Care of Carrots Carrots are fairly low maintenance. You need to keep the area weeded, but be careful not to yank on the carrot tops by accident. Also, keep pests and critters away with fences, raised beds or covers. Try not to walk on or too near your carrot rows. As the carrot seedlings grow you’ll need to thin them out. When the seedlings are 2” tall thin them out to be approximately 2 to 4” apart. Keep the garden well watered without becoming soggy. When to Harvest Carrots Because we’re actually eating the root, carrots can be harvested at any given time. But if you wait until that root is bright orange it will be at its sweetest, tastiest stage. The problem is that you don’t really know how orange a carrot is until you pull it out. Judge by the carrot tops and watch the foliage. When it begins to droop and wilt, it’s time to harvest. Experiment by harvesting at different stages in the plant’s life and discovering which age of carrot best suits your taste. How to Harvest Carrots Start by watering the soil to make it loosen and give the carrot some wiggle room. Some gardeners use a fork to dig down beside the carrot, but try gently tugging at the carrot tops first to see how much give the root has. Harvested carrots should be stored at around 30 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Common Carrot Pests and Diseases One particularly nasty pest is the Carrot Rust Fly whose larva will chew through the root of your carrot and turn the vegetable into waste. Raised beds and row covers will help with this problem. Also, wireworms or beetle larva like to chew through the carrot underneath the ground. Plant mustard throughout the garden to deter this and other pests and make sure the soil is not overly soggy. Many larva and worm-like pests thrive in wet, soggy conditions. Gardening Tips and Tricks for Growing Carrots Once you have them growing, carrots are really quite simple. Prepare your soil well and sow the seeds properly, then thin out the seedlings as necessary. Remember not to fertilize your carrot plants with high nitrogen fertilizer, as that just encourages the leafy carrot tops to get greener and actually stunts the growth of the vegetable underneath the ground. Just make sure that your soil is rich in compost. If your soil is low in nutrients or the carrot tops are lacking green color, appearing white, fertilize lightly with a low nitrogen fertilizer. Make sure the carrot tops are three inches tall before fertilizing. The whole family will enjoy the juicy, sweet taste of carrots fresh from your garden. With a little preplanning and a sowing schedule, you can have a booming supply of carrots all summer long.