Locally grown, fresh carrots are delicious, nutritious, and brighten a market setup. The trouble with carrots is that they take quite a long time to mature. When growing for a farmers’ market, properly planning successions is crucial to having continuous supply. Let’s get into it.
Map Out Your Sowing Schedule for Succession Planting
Doing planning legwork before your growing season begins will save you a lot of headaches during the season. Having a well-thought-out and calculated sowing schedule will allow you to follow along, so during your busiest parts of the season, you don’t have to think much about when or where you’re sowing carrots.
Look at past years’ market sales and take note of how many carrot bunches you sold each week. Did you sell out early? Was there more demand than you had supply? Do you wish you had more?
Take note of when you first and last brought carrots to market. Do you wish you had brought them sooner? Is there still high demand in the late season?
Do you have an outlet or cooler for storing carrots if you are no longer selling them at the farmers’ market?
How many carrots do you put in a bunch? This will help you determine how many markets each bed should last you.
Based on what you discovered, do some math to get the amount of carrots you want to bring to market in future seasons.
Where should I grow carrots this season based on my crop rotation plan
How often and how many carrots to sow
Let’s say your beds are 30” wide and 100’ long. You sow five rows of carrots per bed and have the Jang seeder set to drop a seed every inch. That’s approximately 1200 carrot seeds per row, 6000 per bed. However, you have to assume your germination rate will be about 85%, bringing us to 5100 carrots per bed.
Note: Depending on your soil and the variety, you might have to thin carrots to every 1.5-2 inches. Just take that into account when figuring your potential output from each bed.
If you put 6-8 full-size carrots in a bunch, that’s about 728 bunches from one bed of carrots. Taking into account some loss and personal consumption, let’s call it 700.
If you attend two farmers’ markets per week and want to bring 50 bunches to each, how long should this one bed last you? Seven weeks.
You have to do the math to supply your market with a continuous supply of carrots. This should dictate how often you are sowing carrots too, but remember to take into account the time of year and days to maturity of each variety.
Adjust as needed
As with everything new, while you learn how quickly or slowly different varieties of carrots grow in your soil at different parts of the growing season, you'll have to adjust your sowing dates and amounts. Take ample notes on germination rates including how many days it took, your watering schedule, thinning, and the amount of bunches you took to market each week. Record keeping is everything when it comes to planning successions.
In general, plan to sow a new succession of carrots every three to four weeks, again, depending on how many you need each week.
Select Your Varieties
There are early-season, main-season, and storage carrots available on the market, each performing better in different parts of the year.
These will be a little shorter (about five to seven inches), and more slender, but are typically very sweet. They’re ready in 55-60 days, depending on your growing region. Try ‘Yaya’ for an early, sweet, and USDA organic Nelson type and ‘Mokum’ for a slender Amsterdam-type.
These will be about seven to nine inches long, will grow for the main part of your season, and have a well-rounded flavor, not overly sweet. They will take 70+ days to reach maturity. Try ‘Naval’ if you have less than ideal soil and ‘Romance’ for a uniformly attractive and sweet Nantes type.
Storage carrots should be sown in the summer for a fall harvest. You can also sow them a bit later if you plan to overwinter as they can tolerate frost. They’ll take about 75 days to reach maturity, a bit longer when the weather cools down.
‘Bolero’ is one of the most dependable and consistently productive and delicious storage carrots, successful across all growing regions. Its flavor is sweet and juicy fresh and comparably so even after long-term storage.
Carrots prefer well-draining, pH-balanced, and composted soil, preferably of a sandy loam consistency. Broadfork before amending and shaping your bed, which will allow the carrots to have an easy time growing down through the soil. You want them to spend less energy on forcing their way through compacted soil and more on just growing. Plus, well-aerated soil will result in the straightest and longest carrots possible.
Create a smooth garden bed
We use the Jang seeder to seed five rows of carrots in our 30-inch beds. For the seeds to dispense properly and evenly, we compost our beds heavily so the surface is soft and fluffy, remove any rocks, and smooth it all out with the backside of a rake before sowing. The Jang moves swiftly through the beds so the rows are straight and evenly spaced. A smooth bed also makes overhead watering more efficient.
Water evenly and consistently for high germination rates
Carrots require even moisture for good germination. A great way to increase germination rates is to tightly cover the bed with row cover the day you sow seeds. Overhead water them upon sowing and every day thereafter. The row cover will become fully saturated and help the bed get evenly watered. Remove the row cover once carrots germinate and switch over to drip irrigation. Drip irrigation will get water right down to the roots, where it’s most important. When overhead watering, you’ll lose a lot of moisture to evaporation before getting absorbed into the soil, especially in the heat of summer. Carrots need about an inch of water when they’re young and about two inches a week as they’re developing. Less water will negatively affect their flavor and overall growth.
Get your garden beds weed-free
Because carrots take such a long time to germinate, any weeds that sprout up in the meantime will become competition, making it harder for the carrots to grow. Some weeds may even have grown large enough during the 7-14 days it takes carrots to germinate to shade out the little carrot seedlings.
A flame weeder is a great investment for a small-scale farm and an effective way to rid your garden beds of new, tiny weeds. A flame weeder is a small torch you point at the soil surface and scorch everything growing above the surface, smoothing the bed back out. Timing is very important with this method, so listen up.
If you flame weed too early, you’ll have missed the weed germination, and they’ll come up anyway to wreak havoc.
If you flame weed too late, you’ll be flame-weeding the weeds along with your precious carrots.
Pro tip: One way to avoid mistakenly flame-weeding your carrots is to use an “indicator seed.” On the same day as you sow carrots, throw in a few beet seeds at the end of the bed. Depending on the time of year, the beets will germinate about 1-3 days before the carrots, and this is your signal to get your flame-weeding pants on!
Continue to weed
Cultivate in between rows of carrots when they’re about three weeks post-germination using a gentle wire weeder. The bed might require one more cultivation a few weeks later, but at that point, the carrots should shade anything else out, leaving you with a lush bed of carrot tops and nothing else.
If your soil is amply moist, you may be able to gently wiggle carrots out of the ground but have a digging fork on standby. Use this carefully so you’re not forking the carrots, but rather straight down in between rows.
Pro tip: Wait to harvest late fall/winter carrots until after a frost or two when the plant has begun storing energy in the form of sugars. This will cause the carrots to taste that much sweeter.
Scout For Pests
The carrot rust fly, cutworms, and click beetles are among the most common carrot pests.
The carrot rust fly is a tiny black fly with an orange head and tends to come out during cool, moist weather conditions. Larvae mine through the roots of carrots and parsnips, making them unmarketable and opening them up to possible fungi colonization.
You can prevent the carrot rust fly from damaging your carrots by covering them with insect netting in May and June to prevent flies from laying their eggs, delaying planting until June when most larvae will hatch out, proper crop rotation and debris removal in the fall, and harvesting carrots in blocks rather than selectively to prevent them from moving into carrots nearby.
Cutworms are juicy, light, and dark brown caterpillars with a distinct tan line running down the length of their body. They are vicious garden pests, feeding on a variety of your favorite vegetables in two to three generations per year and overwintering in areas of debris.
They are named as such because they feed on the stems of plants, usually causing fatal damage, especially in young transplants. They typically come out to feed at night and during the day, you can find them curled up in a “C” beneath the soil surface when disturbed.
Try sprinkling cornmeal around new transplants to control cutworms. They’re unable to digest it and will die. Alternatively, you can sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth around your garden, release beneficial nematodes, or spray Bacillus thuringiensis, an organic bacteria used to control various caterpillars, moths, and hornworms.
Wireworms are slender, reddish brown wirelike, and hard-bodied. They are the larvae of click beetles and live in this stage for several years, living in the soil all year long. Wireworms prefer soil temperatures that are between 50-60° so you’ll likely see them closer to the soil surface during these periods. They’ll burrow further down in periods of prolonged heat.
If you see tiny tunnels of rot in root crops like salad turnips, carrots, and radishes, you might have a wireworm issue. Parasitic nematodes, proper crop rotation, and wireworm traps are organic options for wireworm control.
In my experience, carrots are a farmers’ market favorite among customers and I can never have quite enough. They brighten up the setup, kids love them, and everyone agrees, that there’s truly nothing better than a crisp fresh carrot, especially one that’s grown right down the road.
Succession planning may take some tweaking at first, but once you’ve figured out the proper timing of sowing, weeding, and harvesting in your region, you’ll have a continuous supply of carrots at your farmers’ market.
If you are interested in learning about growing other market garden crops in succession we recommend JM Fortier’s Market Gardener Masterclass. Many of the steps for succession planting are the same but each crop has its own tips and tricks.
Written by Jenna Rich
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