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Planning your carrot yield should be simple. One seed equals one carrot. Easy! Right? Well, it depends on a few factors, and the most significant of all is choosing the right carrot variety to ensure reliable yields.
I’m going to take some time here, because planning carrot yields can be much more complicated than you might think. Especially if you’re planning your vegetable garden so you know exactly how many carrots to plant per person.
Understanding carrot yields
Carrots, like nearly all root vegetables, produce one root for every seed planted. They are not tubers like potatoes, or rhizomes like artichokes, but simply the root of flowering carrot plants.
Carrots are biennial plants but should be treated as annual vegetables. If left to go to their second year, you’ll have a gorgeous display of flowers, but inedible woody roots, so it’s important to harvest carrots after their first season (even if they’re a little small).
How to prepare the soil for carrots
The basics of carrot planting revolve around soil preparation. The clue is in their form. Ideally, carrots should have chunky tops, where foliage develops and is pushed out from the soil. The root should then taper down as far as possible into the ground.
To prepare the soil in a way that encourages the free growth of carrot roots, aim for loose soil or compost without restrictions, and plenty of drainage. While carrots need moisture to properly expand, that water should ideally come from below. You can do this by placing a large pot or container in a drip tray and filling that with water. This encourages carrots to send roots downwards.
Alternatively, plant carrots in free-draining compost (last year’s tomato compost is ideal). That way, when you water, the moisture will drip through the bottom, and help carrots grow in the right direction.
Failing to prepare carrot soil in advance will dramatically reduce your yield size, so follow our guide for more information on how to grow carrots properly.
How many carrots per person, per season
The best use of space is to plant a tall bucket or container with carrots at roughly 2” apart. Each 1ft square can then produce around 18-24 carrots. Shorter carrots will take up just as much space, and produce fewer roots, but this can mean more reliable yields.
However, carrot yields are best described in pounds, not the number of roots, because there is such a wide discrepancy between the size and weight of different varieties of carrots. From small radish-shaped carrots to huge show carrots, often weighing 1lb each.
But, if you think of your average dinner plate, with carrots on the side, you’ll probably be using about 3oz of carrots per meal. If you were to eat that with every meal, you’d probably get sick of them, so let’s assume you’re having a portion of carrots three times a week. That’s 6oz per person.
So let’s take a standard builder’s bucket, with plenty of drainage holes. Add some fresh compost to the bottom of the pot, and fill the rest with last year’s spent tomato compost, or compost from last year’s hanging baskets.
If your bucket is a typical, 1ft wide bucket, you can grow 16-20 carrots. However, spacing further apart will generally mean larger roots with more flavor, so sow thinly if you want good-looking veg!
Sow carrots directly on the surface of the compost, at a rough rate of one seed every 2 inches. Sow thinly because carrot flies can be a disaster if you have to thin them later!
By late summer or early fall, your bucket should be packed full of healthy carrots. We’ve used this method with Deep Purple, a gorgeously colored Danvers variety, and got a yield of about 2lb per bucket. Each bucket is more than enough to feed one person for a month with two meals a week!
Sowing carrots in a raised bed is tricky, because the lower growing position heightens the risk of carrot fly, which fly low to the ground, and are attracted to the scent of the foliage. However, in well-kept raised beds, carrots can grow exceptionally well, with natural conditions creating the perfect conditions for long roots.
There are two ways to sow carrots in raised beds; hand sowing, and seed tape. I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of seed tape. It’s an unnecessary expense in most cases. But, with carrots, it massively reduces the chances of needing to thin carrots out and gives you pre-set spacing so you know exactly how many carrots you’re going to harvest from one strip.
Having sown your carrots in the ground, you can expect a yield of around 2.5lb per square foot. A typical 6ft x 6ft raised bed can therefore yield 90lb of carrots. More than enough for a family of four from fall through to spring if you store them properly!
How to sow carrots for higher yields
Once you’ve prepared your bed, border, or container, it’s time to sow your carrot seeds. To get more reliable yields, and reduce problems throughout the growing season, you’ll need to sow your carrots as thinly as possible. Carrot seeds have a good rate of germination, so there is no need to over-sow, or thin out later.
Sow carrots at 2” apart. The spacing depends more on the type of carrot, as some are long and thin, others, short and fat, but 2” is about right for most varieties.
For fresh carrots (almost) all year round, sow them in 2-4 week intervals from spring, through to late summer. Once germinated, carrots will keep growing until the first frost. If you have a greenhouse, you can sow carrots in early-mid fall. Provided carrots germinate before night becomes longer than day (winter solstice) they will develop through winter and be harvestable in January or February.
Tip: While saving seeds in the vegetable garden is a great way to save money, it’s never a good idea with carrots. There are so many wild carrot varieties around the countryside, and in our cities, that the risk of cross-pollination is quite high. Sow from seed packets each year. Even old seed packets work (we sowed a ten-year-old packet of seeds this year (expired in 2014) and every single seed germinated.
How to care for carrots for higher yields
Carrots don’t need much in the water of water, fertilizer, or care. In fact, thinning, pruning, or interfering with your carrot tops before harvest time does much more harm than good.
When watering carrots, water them really deeply, once a week, so the soil at the base of the container is saturated, but the top layer can dry out (for each bucket, I usually water just until water runs out of the base of the pot).
If you have ever had a problem with carrot fly, consider netting your carrots or introducing companion plants like onions, garlic, or chives. These help to distract carrot flies and dilute the smell of carrots. Alternatively, sow carrots in containers that are more than 4ft above ground level (carrot fly can’t fly that high).
How to store carrots
If you’re planning how many carrots to grow per person as a staple crop, it’s important to note that they can be grown almost all year round in a greenhouse. Carrots take longer to develop than radishes or beetroot, which are packed with more water, but you can sow them in early spring for a summer harvest, and sow more once a fortnight to keep a regular crop going from late summer right through to Christmas.
If you haven’t got enough space for that, carrots store surprisingly well in a cool dark place. They will soften over time, but if you can keep them dry and mold-free they are usable in carrot mash, or for roasting and dicing into soups for up to six months.
Alternatively, store carrots in sand to keep them fresh for longer.
However, to keep their nutrients intact, the best way to store carrots is to slice them and then blanch them in boiling water for two minutes, then drain, dry, and freeze them.
Average carrot weight, by variety
Because nearly all carrots need the same spacing (18-20 plants, per square foot of garden) it’s really quite simple to plan your yield around the variety you plan on sowing. Below we’ve listed the most popular carrot varieties in order of yield per square foot and included the average weight of each carrot variety too.
|Variety||Individual Carrot Size (ounces)||Yield per square foot|
Tip: While it might seem like the obvious choice to grow the biggest carrot variety, it’s not necessarily a perfect indicator of yield. If you’ve never grown carrots before they can be surprisingly complicated to get right. Bigger carrots only reach those sizes in ideal conditions.
Shorter carrots, like Chantenay and Thumbelina, grow in damp conditions and can cope with poor drainage. While stubby varieties like Little Fingers are a good choice for compacted or stony soil. You’ll harvest less, but you can be pretty certain that you’ll get a crop that roughly reflects the table above.
Because carrots always need the same spacing, and most need the same conditions, it really is quite simple to plan a specific yield per person, or per container in your garden diary. Perhaps the most important thing to consider is how confident you are when it comes to growing carrots.
Shorter, smaller carrots, might seem like a waste of space compared to their larger counterparts, but let’s face it, planning ahead is often better than risking it all on a few show carrots. Even now, we tend to plant shorter carrots like Chantenay. They yield less, but they taste better, and take less looking after!