How to Grow Carrots in Containers – Backyard Food Growing

The humble little carrot, in Latin its name is Daucus carota. Carrots of any type or colour are a great way to get yourself or the kids started in gardening. They require little skill, minimal care and minimal effort. You’re almost guaranteed a delicious harvest in the late summer and fall.

Carrots are high in beta-carotene, vitamin B6, vitamin C, niacin and calcium. A carrot is actually the young root of a plant that looks a lot like Queen Ann’s Lace.

There are many unusual colours of carrot, such as Purple Haze that you’ll sometimes see in the stores. The yellow, white and red carrots look beautiful too but harder to find. Farmer’s markets or in the specialty organic markets you may see some purple carrots or maybe a bag of mixed colour rainbow carrots. However, I have recently started finding bags of full size rainbow carrots in some stores. Pretty much all of the other varieties you’d have to buy seeds and grow them yourself, unless you have a very diverse market nearby.

Long ago, in the days when everyone had a backyard garden, carrots were always multi coloured and that was normal. Somewhere along the way though we decided that carrots should be orange and the other colours fell into obscurity for several decades.

As usual, everything old is new again at some point. Now with the benefits of eating local organic food becoming so important, the other colours of carrots are making a bold reappearance.

Planting

If you’re starting from seed, then pick up the seed packages labelled Kaleidoscope mix. It’s a seed mixture of white, yellow and different shades of orange carrot in one package. 

It’s a bit more interesting than just orange carrots on their own. 

Here’s a fun idea: before planting, mix some of the purple carrot seeds and the multi coloured seeds in a dish before you put them in the seeder (buy a seeder here). Then stir them together, put them in the seeder and start planting.

This makes it super fun when it comes time to pick the carrots, especially for kids because you never know which colour is going to pop up next! Could be red, yellow, purple, white or orange.

There are so many different, delicious and beautiful types of carrot that you can grow. You can use the harvest on a summer veggie platter in a gorgeous rainbow and amaze your guests.

Types of Carrot

There are many varieties of carrots, all with different sizes and characteristics meant to suit a multitude of growing conditions and needs. The main types are: Imperator, Chantenay, Danvers and Nantes.

It’s not pictured here but the Danvers carrot looks like a short. stumpy Imperator. For container gardening you’ll want to choose a smaller type with a smaller mature size and fewer days to maturity.

Purple Dragon carrots are thicker and a bit stumpy with a thick purple ring

Purple Haze is longer and slimmer like the imperator with a thinner purple ring

I prefer Purple Haze because they are slimmer and have a softer texture and when you pick them young, they’re so sweet and delicious. Yellow and white ones are dynamite too because they are a sharp contrast to the purple ones and look beautiful mixed together in any carrot dish you choose to make.

Soil Needs

Carrots prefer a looser, lighter soil, this makes it easier for the roots to grow long and straight down. The ideal pH for them is 6.0 to 6.8. Carrots don’t like fresh manure, the carrots will become misshapen but will still be edible,

I don’t (ever) recommend digging up existing garden soil to put in a container. It’s too dense and will be very hard packed and an unfavourable environment for the carrot seeds (or any seeds) to sprout. If the soil is rocky, the carrots will struggle to grow through it. They will be shorter, more stumpy and sometimes growing in odd directions with two or three legs. Sometimes they can grow into some pretty funky formations!

For a small number of tubs or containers then I recommend buying good quality bagged potting soil for vegetables in containers. Buy it here.

After about 3 years of reusing soil for carrots, it’s best to change it out and start fresh again.

Type of Container

All varieties of carrots will be happy growing in any container that is a decent size and more than 12″ deep. I usually use toy tubs for growing. (Buy one here)  Planting in a raised bed is a good method too. (Raised bed gardening info here)

These types of containers offer plenty of depth for them to grow. It’s very likely that you’ll be harvesting them early anyway. Remember to not over seed, none of the carrots will develop if they don’t have the room to expand. The maximum is four seeds per square inch, if you’d like larger carrots then space them out even further. 

Carrots usually take 60 to 75 days to harvest depending on variety. They are a cool weather crop and prefer the cooler weather of spring and early fall. This is why in most areas carrots can be grown in to the fall. They grow well in zones 4-10.

If you have the space, you can plant successive crops every three weeks or so in the spring and late summer (not in the hot part of middle summer) as long as you have enough time before the winter freeze. This is why choosing varieties that have fewer days to harvest will allow more time to get in more crops per season.

To figure this out just subtract the days to harvest shown on the seed package from the expected frost date in your area. This will tell you if there’s enough time to see the seeds through to the harvest.

Planting

Carrot seeds are tiny and hard to manage. Once they’ve been sprinkled on the soil they are quite hard to see so it becomes difficult to know when you’ve planted the right amount. It’s very, easy to over plant a carrot container.

If this happens and you accidentally put down too many seeds, if that happens just leave it and allow them sprout. Let them grow to about 1″ – 2″ tall. Then carefully cut the tops off the smaller sprouts with scissors (don’t pull them out). Pulling them out will damage the young roots of the neighbouring sprouts and they might die.

The remaining root will die off and feed the soil while allowing the stronger seedlings room to grow. Plant approximately 4 seeds per square inch. If you don’t do this you’ll end up harvesting lots of  little stringy roots that should have been carrots.

Pelleted Seeds

There are a small variety of seeds that are available in “pelleted” form like the one pictured above for peppers. The term pelleted means that each seed has been coated in an inert, organic clay material. This makes them much larger and easy to handle and they’re also really easy to see once sprinkled on the soil. The coating quickly dissolves in the rain and the seed sprouts normally.

Seed tape is another good way to simplify the task of planting the tiny little seeds. The drawback is that only a few selected varieties are available in tape form. However, learning to make your own seed tape is a great way to get around that problem. Read more about making seed tape.

Buy a Seeder

Buying a seeder will save a lot of time and wasted seeds. These inexpensive little gadgets called “seeders” that you can buy easily right here that will help you sprinkle a controlled amount of seeds. Over seeding is very easy to do.

The one seen here is effective by offering a succession of holes starting very small and each one increasing in size for sprinkling larger and larger seeds. It’s simple but it works.

This seeder design is very precise. The Tenax Precision Air Suction Seeder will allow you to pick up one seed at a time to have complete control over how many seeds are applied to the soil. This would make using pelleted seeds even easier. 

Planting the Seeds

One package of seeds will go quite far and will be enough for 2 large 18″ containers. I can never resist wanting to put more seeds than that in to two containers.

Nom-nom-nom…more beautiful carrots! Right? It’s really important to resist doing this, too many seeds in one container is not better. I’ve learned this from experience!

Once they’re planted and covered with a thin layer of soil, pat it down just a little. Then use a gentle sprinkler to water them so as not to turn up the soil and disturb the seeds. Use a watering can with small holes or a handheld hose wand with a soft spray.

Days to Sprout

They don’t need tons of water but it does need to be consistently moist. If there is no rain, keep them watered by hand enough so that the surface doesn’t dry and form crust.

It’s important to keep the top few inches of soil moist until they sprout. Then if the outside temperature is right, you should see sprouts popping up in 14 – 17 days. 

It’s important to know that the seeds will lie dormant, grow very slowly or stop growing completely right where they are if the temperature dips after planting or isn’t high enough to meet the required temperature to sprout. The optimum temperature for them is a consistent 13º C or higher. 

They will resume growing as though nothing happened when the temperature rises again. They don’t like to be too hot either, the seedlings begin to suffer in temperatures higher than 30º C.

Keep them lightly watered but not too wet while they grow. The top few inches of soil should stay moist all the time.

Once the days to harvest have mostly passed you’ll be able to start to picking the size carrots you can use for dinner and snacking on. It’s really hard to wait that long though!

What’s with the green shoulders?

As the carrots grow it may happen that they will push up out of the soil a little bit. This exposes the top end of the carrot (the shoulders) to the sun and causes it to turn green. This isn’t unhealthy it’s just not very nice looking. When you see the shoulders starting to show, just hill up soil to cover them again to block out the sun.

Picking

When picking select the ones with the largest, thickest greens and then gently pull them up, sometimes they need a wiggle.

Wash or brush off the soil and enjoy. You won’t even have to peel them, they′ll have a deliciously irresistible, earthy flavour. This should be enough instruction to get you going with learning how to grow carrots in containers or raised beds yourself.

Carrot Facts Summary

*Very tiny seeds
*Easy to grow
*Cool weather crop
*Seeds sprout at about 13ºC
*Suffers in temps above 30°C
*Prefer loose, loamy soil
*pH of 6.0 to 6.8
*Nearly pest free when grown in containers and raised beds

Please leave a comment below if you need additional help getting your delicious, colourful carrot garden started.

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