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There’s no better indicator of early summer than fragrant, colorful carrots waiting to be pulled out of the ground. Growing carrots for a first-timer can be tricky, though, since they need ideal conditions to thrive.
Raised beds are a popular garden setup, and if you’re thinking of buying or building your own raised beds, you’re probably wondering how deep they should be for growing carrots. In this article, we’ll focus on soil depth and some fantastic carrot varieties to try in your garden.
I’ve been growing an abundance of carrots in raised beds exclusively, so I have a thing or two to share about how my carrot harvest is always such a massive success. So let’s dig in!
Can you grow carrots in raised beds?
Absolutely! I love growing carrots in raised beds because I can do a better job of building loose, fluffy soil inside raised beds rather than using my native soil.
I live in a rainy mountain area. Summers tend to be dry, but the rest of the year, the soil can get really soggy. Raised beds will not work for everyone, but they work great for me because of how well they drain.
The key to avoiding hard, compacted soil in raised beds is to amend them with plenty of organic matter regularly, at least once per year. This way, the soil gets better over time, and it will act like a sponge in times when you need more moisture.
As always, homemade compost and aged manure are the absolute best options to apply to your raised beds. Compost will work for every vegetable in your garden, and carrots are no exception since they need plenty of nutrients and moisture. I simply apply a layer of 2-3 inches of compost or manure about twice per year and watch it work its magic.
How you fill your raised beds is really important. If you’re creating a brand new garden, I’m sure you’ve already done your research. If your native soil is heavy clay, you might want to incorporate some sand in your mixture, since carrots thrive in light, well-draining soil. We have a great resource on using builders sand in the garden.
Stony soils can also be an issue, and they can become an obstacle to carrot roots. I have stony native soil in my garden, but I’ve noticed that if the top 10 inches contain nice loamy soil, once the carrot roots gets large enough, they can penetrate the harder native soil underneath the raised bed.
How deep do your raised beds need to be for growing carrots?
The average recommended height for raised beds is 8 to 12 inches. This depth will accommodate most vegetables, including carrots. My raised beds are 10 inches tall, so they sit right in the middle, and I’ve never had a problem growing long pointy carrots.
There are some specific situations that can affect growing long carrots, though, so let’s go over them quickly:
- Some people decide to use chicken wire underneath their raised beds to gopher-proof their crops. If you decide to do this, your raised beds should be taller – at least 12 inches – for obvious reasons.
- If you’re building your raised beds in a greenhouse, or in an urban garden on top of concrete or other hard structures, your carrots won’t be able to penetrate into the native soil. You’ll need your raised beds to be at least 14 inches tall, but taller is better.
- If you’re building a Hugelkultur-type bed, with straw, decaying wood, and old branches laid on the bottom to lock in moisture, make sure your raised beds are tall enough to avoid interfering with your carrot roots.
As an alternative, you can always choose shorter, stubbier carrot varieties. These can be particularly lovely to harvest if you keep having issues with carrots forking. We’ll get to varieties in a minute, as I still want to touch on a few things to ensure you get plenty of carrots in your raised beds.
The trickiest parts of getting carrots to grow and thrive are germination & thinning. So here are the key things to consider:
- Sow them THICKLY. That’s right, you can throw the sowing recommendations out the window. Sowing them thickly means you’ll have a lot of thinning to do, but at least you’ll get excellent germination.
- Water them overhead until they sprout, or lock in moisture using a plank. Check this article on how to get carrots to germinate in the heat, it applies to pretty much every situation.
- Thin them repeatedly. Yes, you may, unfortunately, attract root fly, but if it’s not a big issue in your area, thinning carrots aggressively to get bigger roots will ensure you’ll get those big, long carrots you’ve been craving to grow.
- Wait until it’s the right time to harvest. We have this article to teach you exactly how to know when that is.
The 4 carrot varieties I grow and recommend
When I plan my crops in late winter, I always assign room in my garden for both summer and winter carrots. What do I mean by summer and winter? It’s simple, really. I sow one generous crop of carrots in early April and a second large crop in mid-July.
Now, sowing dates are approximate, you may want to tailor your dates according to your climate, but this sowing calendar might come in handy.
Summer carrots are fantastic because I can eat them raw, straight from the ground, as they grow and mature. I love to enjoy raw baby carrots in my summer salads. When it gets hot outside, I’ll harvest them and store them in the root cellar to last me until late autumn.
Winter carrots are a staple in our diet, and I grow them exclusively for storage. This means I have to sow them in the summertime and then harvest them once they’ve fattened up in October. I prefer to let the first frosts do a little magic and sweeten up my winter carrots, and then I harvest them before the ground gets too hard.
I grow one variety for summer, and one for winter, as well as some fun carrot seeds to bring some color and shape to our plates. Here are the most reliable varieties I can recommend:
1. Nantes Carrots
Nantes carrots are a unique variety of carrots with a fascinating backstory and distinctive features. This heirloom variety first emerged in the city of Nantes, France, during the late 1800s. Since then, it has become a preferred choice for home gardeners and small-scale farmers due to its delicate nature and delectable taste.
One of the most noticeable things about Nantes carrots is their shape. These carrots are cylindrical with blunt, rounded ends on both sides, making them easier to harvest and giving them a uniform appearance. The skin of Nantes carrots is smooth and firm, with a bright orange to orange-red hue, while the flesh is also orange, fine-grained, and juicy.
Another unique aspect of Nantes carrots is their texture. They are crispy and tender, with a crunchy, juicy texture that is perfect for snacking or adding to salads. However, they are also great for cooking and roasting, thanks to their fine-grained flesh, which has little to no core.
Despite its popularity among home gardeners and small-scale farmers, Nantes carrots are not commonly grown commercially. This is due to their delicate nature, which makes them susceptible to rot in damp soil conditions.
There are over 40 carrot varieties that have rounded edges classified under the Nantes name, including the Scarlet Nantes, Nantes Coreless, Nantes Half Long, and Early Nantes carrots.
2. Autumn King Carrots
If you’re looking for a carrot variety that’s perfect for storing during the winter, then look no further than Autumn King! This particular type of carrot is an absolute favorite amongst home gardeners, thanks to its consistently deep red color and conical roots that can grow up to 12 inches in length.
Now, that’s a long carrot! So make sure your raised beds are on the deeper side, or that the bottom of your raised beds doesn’t have any obstacles like chicken wire, weed barrier, or rocks.
What really sets Autumn King apart from other varieties is its ability to resist greening and splitting, which means it can be left in the ground for extended periods without losing any of its flavor or texture.
Autumn King is also one of the largest carrot varieties out there, and it’s known for being a very healthy and vigorous crop, and high yielding as well.
One of the best things about Autumn King is that it’s a late main crop variety, which means it can be sown in June or July and harvested from October or November onwards. This makes it perfect for gardeners who want to enjoy fresh, homegrown produce well into the winter months.
Just make sure you plant it early enough to allow it to fully mature before the winter arrives, and you’ll be enjoying sweet, delicious carrots all winter long, and well into the following spring!
3. Purple Elite Carrots
I love the Purple Elite carrot variety because it’s not only delicious but also visually stunning, and makes a great addition to my garden. This hybrid carrot is unique because of its vibrant purple exterior with yellow striations and bright yellow interior.
Purple Elite carrots are imperator-type, meaning they’re longer and more slender than other carrot varieties, with a sharp taper from top to bottom. When fully mature, these carrots can reach up to 9 inches in length, making them perfect for growing in a raised bed that’s 10 inches tall.
While the yield of Purple Elite carrots isn’t as predictable as regular Nantes, Berlikum, and Autumn King varieties, I still love to have at least one unusual carrot variety in the garden. After all, we should also have some fun with our crops!
4. Chantenay Red Core Carrots
The popular Chantenay Red Core carrots are not only easy to grow, but they’re also high-yielding. This short and compact variety has a sweet orange flesh with a red-orange core that gives it its name.
Chantenay carrots grow thick short roots with wide shoulders that are easy to harvest and ideal to plant in containers and raised beds. If you have shallow raised beds, or the soil underneath is heavy clay or rocky, this carrot variety will work particularly well because of its size.
Growing short stubby carrots like Thumbelina or Parisian carrots may be fun, but the Chantenay carrots will offer more flesh while still not exceeding 6 inches in length.
For best results, sow this second early carrot in spring, to harvest it along with your other summer carrots.
For new and seasoned gardeners alike, trying new carrot seed varieties can be very tempting, and it’s best to strike a balance between reliable varieties and fun colorful carrot varieties that bring some novelty to our plates.
I love to be adventurous, but I’d much rather prefer my root cellar to be full, so I stick with the carrots I mentioned. But who knows, that may change next year!