Besides eating the fruits of my labor, one of my greatest joys with homesteading is found in continuous experimentation. Every year I make it a point to grow a new variety, a new species, or try some new and interesting method. Without fail, this curiosity leads to lessons learned both for the good and for the not so good. When I began experimenting with fall and winter gardening, I decided to give carrots a try, and am so glad I did. Not only did carrots prove to be easy, but they also taste far superior to their summer counterparts.
Growing winter carrots is easy, and roots can be harvested throughout the winter
months anytime the ground isn’t frozen solid.
While summer carrots happily grow in loose, friable soil in both in-ground beds and raised ones, winter carrots tend to prefer raised beds placed in full sun. Because the roots will be dormant by winter, little excess moisture will be removed making the raised bed’s increased drainage key to keeping carrots from rotting in the cold, wet soil.
Prepare the soil.
Soil preparation for winter crops requires the same attention as spring and summer gardens. Apply 1 to 2 inches of quality compost and mix into the top several inches of soil. Remove weeds as they appear, as carrot roots will become forked and disfigured if forced to grow around and through the weeds.
Calculate for best planting time.
With winter crops, slightly immature vegetables fare cold weather better than fully mature ones, so you want your carrots to reach only partial maturity by the time heavy frosts appear. Once you have your first fall planting date, subtract two to three weeks off that total time and begin planting seeds for winter at the new estimated date. Follow up every week with another planting of seeds until about two weeks before your first expected frost date. Label each planting and record in a gardening journal to keep track of progress.
Once your seedlings begin growing, thin to 2 inches apart. About two weeks before your first frost date, dig a little in the dirt or pull up a root or two to monitor progress. You’re looking for what many refer to as baby carrots, about 3 to 4 inches long and about as big around as your thumb. Make notes again in your journal regarding each planting date’s size to remind you the following year which dates produced the best-sized carrots.
Store in the ground.
One of the great benefits of winter carrots is that you don’t have to find extra storage space for them. Just leave these little guys in the ground throughout winter and harvest whenever the ground isn’t frozen. In areas with mild winters, a layer of mulch placed atop the carrot bed will often suffice to keep the ground from freezing. However, where temps turn bitterly cold and the ground freezes solid for much of the winter, you may wish to keep carrots covered with a low tunnel or cold frame. This will often allow you to continue harvesting your winter stash no matter what the weather is doing.
While carrots any time of year are a good staple to have around, there’s something special about pulling an extra sweet carrot out of the ground for Christmas dinner. And with only a tiny bit of care, growing winter carrots is the perfect way to start a winter garden.