The carrot ((Daucus Carota) is an ideal vegetable for production whether you have a large farm, small farm or backyard garden.
Carrots do not take up a lot of space, are high yielding and fast growing. They are also popular with consumers for their taste and versatility.
They come in a variety of shapes from round, or finger-shaped, to conical, or elongated. They also come in a wide range of colours including the common orange, yellow, white and purple.
The carrot is cool-weather loving, root vegetable. A cool season vegetable is one that grows best when the air and soil temperatures are cool. It can endure warm weather but does better in cool weather. It is a member of the Apiaceae family which includes parsley, celery, coriander and dill.
The carrot probably originated from Asia. People first grew them for medicine not food about 2000 to 3000 years ago. Carrots are a perfect vegetable rich in vitamin A (beta-carotene) content which helps with better vision. They also contain high levels of vitamin B, minerals and fibre.
Carrots are highly useful and can be used in soups, sauces and salads. They can be eaten raw or cooked, whole, chopped or grated.
Some things you will learn in this post:
- Choosing your carrot variety
- Preparing your soil
- Carrot cultivation techniques
- Tips for watering your carrots
- Harvesting, storing and marketing your carrots
Begin by choosing a carrot seed variety.
Carrots come in a number of varieties. They can be classified into early varieties (sown in the spring) or main crops (sown in autumn). Within these categories, they can be broken down into 5 main groups based on their root shape.
1. Imperator: these are the big ones. Imperator carrots are long, typically about 9-10" long, with narrow shoulders that taper. Because their roots grow long they prefer deep, loose soil. They have strong foliage. This type of carrot stores well and is used for in the processing and the fresh market. A good example of the Imperator variety is Sugarsnax (115-140 days in winter).
2. Chantenay: shorter, conical shape with a blunt tip and wide shoulders. They are the best carrots to grow in shallow or heavier soil. They are extremely tapered, shaped like an ice-cream cone. They grow 5 to 6 inches long with wide shoulders. Grown for the fresh market and canning. Their flavour is sweet and crisp. An example of a good Chantenay variety is the Chantenay Karoo (90-110 days).
3. Nantes: extremely popular among gardeners, Nantes type carrots are known for their crunchy sweetness, cylindrically shaped roots with a blunt tip. They grow up to 7 inches long and are a good choice for autumn/winter planting. They are grown for the fresh market. Some good varieties of Nantes carrots are Star 3006 (85-95 days) and Laguna (100-130 days).
4. Danvers: mid-length, conical shape with wide shoulders. They are similar to Imperator carrots. The conical roots grow 6-8 inches long and are resistant to cracking and splitting. Examples of Danvers varieties are Danvers Half-Long, Danver Red-cored.
5. Specialty: These basically come in main types: finger (Amsterdam types) and top shaped types. Considered true"baby carrots".
Factors to consider for variety selection for your commercial carrot production include yield, colour, top growth, core diameter and length. The Kuroda variety offers an excellent yield and an excellent shape. It's a great carrot to plant in the autumn. It's days to maturity are between 70-120 days.
A good local source of carrot seeds is National Tested Seeds, which supplies Kuroda, Chantenay and Nantes variety carrots.
Site & Soil Preparation
Carrots grow best in an open, dry and sunny site. They do not like heavy shaded sites.They prefer loose, light, well-drained loamy to sandy soils. Avoid growing carrots in saline soils or heavy soils because these types of soils discourage growth. Carrots prefer well-cultivated soil with no stones or clumps. Soil preparation is a critical part of carrot production.
Climate and Temperature
Carrots can grow under a variety of climatic conditions but they prefer cool weather of between 15 and 20 degrees Celcius. If the temperature drops below 10 degrees Celcius growth slows down as carrots are sensitive to frost. Above 20 degrees Celcius your carrots can get shorter fibrous roots.
Preparing the Soil
To produce the best crop possible, thoroughly prepare the seed bed by double digging or using a chisel plough to turn and break up soil into a fine tilth. Loosening the soil to a depth of about 30 cm will help with good root development. Be careful to avoid compacting the soil during land preparation. Remove any rocks or debris or large bits of organic matter. If carrots come into contact with hard objects they fork and create multipronged carrots. This can make them harder to clear and can reduce yields.
For small farms level the soil with the back of a hoop rake for even planting. Levelling the soil makes it easier to place all the seed at the same depth. Plant your carrots in slightly raised beds which are ideal for varieties with long roots and for improving drainage.
Sowing and Planting Carrots
Carrots are always direct seeded where they will grow. They do not transport well and should not be started in flats. Most carrots in Zimbabwe are planted in the autumn (between February to April ) and Spring (July to August).
|The six-row seeder (via Johnny Seeds)|
Carrot seeds are small, which makes them hard to plant. You can successfully plant carrots using a hand seeder to precision sow seeds.
Direct sow the seed in shallow drills. Make a furrow for sowing using a 2.5 cm square lumber. It can help you to regulate depth and make a nice straight row. Just lay the piece of wood along the bed where you want the row to be and gently press into the soil to desired depth.
Another alternative is to use pelleted seeds (seed dipped in an inert material) or seed tape to make seeding easier and to do less thinning. Pelleting seeds increases seed size and improves the accuracy of carrot planting.
Carrots produce best when produced on ridges or on slightly raised beds because this improves drainage. You can plant without raised beds if you have light, well-drained soils.
Sow carrots about 1 cm to 2.5 cm deep in rows of moist soil. Any deeper and your seeds will take a while to germinate.
Spacing: The recommended inter-row spacing for carrots is 30-50 cm apart and spacing within rows should be 10-15 cm (then thinned to about 5-8 cm apart). Carrots can be planted in double or triple rows.You will need about 3-4 kg of seed per hectare.
After sowing, fill the furrow by dribbling a handful of (2 cm) fine soil or finely sifted compost and then firmed. Label the rows, so that you know what you planted and when you planted it. Make a note of what you planted and when in your farming notebook.
Water the seed beds very gently but evenly and thoroughly after sowing seeds. Keep the soil moist throughout the germination period and do not allow them to dry out or the seeds will not germinate. Check the moisture daily and water again as needed. The goal is to maintain a moist but not soggy bed. Continue to monitor soil moisture regularly.
Carrots are slow to germinate. They can take about 1 to 3 weeks to germinate. They can germinate in a week with a soil temperature of 24 degrees C. If it is colder it takes longer to germinate.To help with germination, cover the bed with burlap bags or row covers, soak them, and keep the bed moist until the carrots sprout. Remove the burlap bags and water the beds daily until the seedlings are well established, then mulch with clean straw. Check seed beds regularly when covered to avoid seedlings growing under cover or they will die.
Next, you want to thin your carrots.
Thinning is usually necessary for carrot production to reduce competition from neighbouring plants. Thin the carrot seedling to about 5-8 cm spacing within rows before plants are 2 inches tall. When thinning carrots choose a cloudy day or a cool evening. Grow your carrots close and they can be fine, but too close they will be stunted, very slender and deformed.
After thinning hill up soil around the base of your carrots. The tops (shoulders) of carrots should not show. Water young plants well to prevent the developing roots from forking in search of water. Keep you soil moist by mulching. Mulch with chopped leaves or pine needles to keep weeds at bay and to keep exposed "shoulders" from turning green and bitter.
Once established carrots begin to develop a wide, deep root system and become extremely low maintenance. But for the initial week's carrot seedling are finicky and can benefit from a lot of attention.
Fertilising Your Carrots
It is a good idea to do a soil test a few months before you plan to plant your carrots. The soil analysis will provide you with a good analysis of your fertiliser requirements. The pH of the soil will influence the availability of nutrients, so it's important to know your soil pH. The ideal soil pH is 6.5 to 7. A dolomitic lime application is recommended for soils below 5.8 pH.
Fertilisation is key to successful production. Some fertiliser may need to be spread pre-planting. As root vegetables, carrots need phosphorus and potassium for growth.
Sprinkle a thin layer of wood ash on planting beds and rake it in for super sweet carrots.Carrots love the potassium in wood ash. Potassium promotes solid, sweet carrots and boosts soil pH. It is also important for regulating photosynthesis and moisture content
Carrots have low nitrogen requirements and can produce good yields with about 80 kg/ha of Nitrogen applications depending on soil. Apply Nitrogen at planting and again between 4 to 8 weeks after emergence. Apply 80 kg of phosphorus per hectare to produce a good crop. Carrots have a high potassium requirements (200-300 kg/ha), applied 50% before planting and 50% as a side dressing 4 to 8 weeks after emergence. Apply Calcium at 30kg/ha if you found it to be deficient in your soil test.
For organic carrot production, you can amend your soil with 10-20t/ha of well-rotted compost about 4 to 8 weeks before your planting date. Avoid using fresh manure because it adds excess nitrogen which causes branching and hairy, fibrous roots/carrots.
Watering Your Carrots
Make sure that your carrot fields have easy access to water for irrigation when needed. Irrigation is essential for effective commercial carrot production. Carrots do not respond well to a lack of water, especially in high temperatures. Droughts are especially devastating to carrot production. Several irrigation systems including (sprinkler, drip and centre pivot) can work for carrot production.
Carrots need about 2.5 cm of water per week from rain or irrigation for the bulk of the growing season. Crusty soil can reduce and slow germination rate. To prevent soil crusting cover newly planted seed beds with a thin layer of sand, a row cover or burlap sacks. You can use a moisture meter to monitor your soil moisture.
Water regularly in dry weather to keep the soil moist. Water your carrots freely if they are any danger of the soil drying out. Moisture content influences the form, colour and quality of your carrots. If your carrots are deprived of water they will fork and crack. Too much water and the carrots may develop cavity rot. It is possible to overwater if your soil has poor drainage. Improper soil conditions account for most the problems experienced with carrots.
Water needs change as carrot plants grow. Reduce watering gradually to prevent longitudinal splitting of the roots when the crop approaches maturity.
Carrot seedlings grow slowly and do not compete well with weeds. Weeds compete with carrots for light, water, nutrients and physical space. Weeds can easily damage carrot feeder roots, and they can also harbour insects and disease.
Weeding is critical for producing high-yielding, high-quality carrots. Keep weeds at bay. You can keep your carrots weeded by hoeing shallowly but be careful not to disturb the carrot roots when they are young. Do not bruise the foliage, or you risk attracting carrot rust flies.
Mulch with grass clippings, seedless straw or screened compost to keep weeds at bay. As carrots mature use additional mulch or soil to cover the roots that poke out of the ground. If they are exposed to the sun the shoulders will turn green and the top parts of the roots will be bitter.
Hand-pull any weeds that get through the mulch. Hand weeding is recommended until the carrots are 2 inches tall.If weeds are a big problem, check with your local chemical company for recommended pre-and-post emergence herbicides.
Pests, Disease and Problems
It is important to monitor your carrot crops for any pests and disease. Visually inspect your crops for any signs of pests and disease every week. You can also monitor pests using traps such as sticky yellow traps or pheromone traps. Disease management is critical for producing high yield, quality carrots.
Most Common Insect Pests
Carrot rust fly: carrots are prone to pests and diseases such as carrot rust fly. The maggots of the carrot rust fly chew roots, causing plants to be dwarfed. Control: Pull and destroy affected plants. Try to adjust planting dates to avoid this pest at its peak.
Red spider mite: not a serious problem in carrots.
Aphids: several types of aphids may occur on the leaves and crowns, and flower stems of carrots later in the growing cycle.
Cutworms: such as black cutworms attack carrot roots and can cause problems throughout growth. Control: encourage beneficial insects. Destroy weeds before planting and apply wood ash on seedbeds.
Root knot nematode: caused by bacteria and fungi cause forking and stubbing in carrots. It is a problem for carrots grown in sandy soils. Control: to prevent nematodes choose resistant varieties and practice crop rotation.
Leafhopper: leafhoppers spread disease causing carrots to be woody, hairy and bitter.
African Armyworm: can cause serious crop losses if not managed quickly. Control: monitor fields regularly. Apply chemicals or botanicals such as neem extracts. Practice field sanitation.
Common Diseases in Carrot Production
Powdery Mildew: affects the foliage, stems and umbels. It is caused by fungus. Symptoms are white, powdery fungal growth on leaves. Control: Can be controlled if detected early. Use certified, disease-free seed. Practice overhead irrigation and good field hygiene. Chemical control: you can use Dithane M45.
Alternaria Blight: fungal disease found in carrots. The symptoms are brown spots to black spots with yellow edges on the leaf margins. Control: hot water treatment of seed may prevent Alternaria blight. Use a disease-resistant variety such as Star 3006.
Sclerotinia Blight: caused by fungus can cause serious damage to carrot roots. Symptoms are soft, watery rot of leaves. Control: practice crop rotation and deep turn the soil to prevent blight.
Bacterial soft rot: Hot, humid weather causes a bacterial disease called vegetable soft rot. It decays the core of the root. Control: practice crop rotation and grow carrots in well-drained soils.
Use an integrated pest management (IPM) to manage pests and diseases. This includes monitoring, biological controls, cultivation, management practices, good drainage and chemical controls.
Other methods for preventing diseases, pests and problems are:
- Crop rotation controls pests and diseases since most carrot pests are soilborne.
- Keeping weeds under control at all times.
- Removing diseased plants immediately and burn.
- Removing all plant residues from fields soon after harvesting.
- Buying certified seed from a reputable supplier such as Seedco, Starke Ayres or National Tested Seeds.
- Carefully applying insecticides and fungicides when pests reach economic thresholds.
- Carefully handling carrots at harvesting and avoid bruising.
- Storing carrots in a well-ventilated room.
- Clean your farm tools after each use.
Harvesting and Storing Carrots
Carrots are ready to harvest in 70-135 days from sowing depending on the variety and season. Optimum yields with good management are between 30-50t/ha with leaves and 20-30t/ha (roots only). You can start harvesting as soon as the carrots are fully mature and a good size. Length or width can be used as a maturity index.
Harvest when carrots are about 2 cm in diameter by pulling using a garden fork or mechanically using a carrot harvester (belt-pick up). Be careful not to damage the roots when harvesting. Damage during harvesting can lead to quick deterioration. When harvesting, drench the bed with water first, making the carrots easier to pull. Harvest during a cool part of the day. Make sure that pickers use clean harvesting containers for picking harvested carrots,
Storage: Remove the carrots from the field heat soon after harvesting. Move the carrots to a storage area to pack, sort, grade, package and cool.
You can store carrots in a cool storage room for up to 6 months depending on the variety. Keep temperature at 0 degrees Celcius and relative humidity (RH) at 93-98 %. Avoid storing carrots with other vegetables to prevent bitter flavour induced by ethylene.
When it comes to markets you have a number of options for selling your carrots.
One good option is to sell your carrots at the fresh market.
Some tips for selling to fresh markets:
Bundle your carrots with their leaves (tops on) in bunches of about 6 to 9. Be aware that keeping the tops on dries out the roots quickly and reduces shelf-life. If you sell to the fresh market they need to be orange, fresh and bright. For distant markets sell carrots without leaves in 14 kg net plastic, mesh pockets or crates. Baby carrots should be sold in pre-packs.
Some other places you can sell you carrots include:
- Institutional buyers such as schools.
You can value add by peeling and shredding carrots for salad mixes.
processors such as canneries and dehydrators to be canned, frozen, or dried and used in soups, stews, baby foods, pet foods and/or juices.
Carrots can also be used as animal fodder which helps minimise your post-harvest losses.
Carrot yield potential per hectare: about 20-50 t/ha.
Seed requirements: 3-4 kg/ha
Days to Maturity: 70 to 135 days
Current Fresh Market Price for Carrots: $5 for box (via eMkambo)
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(Top image source: Starke Ayres)