Kids love harvesting carrots and potatoes ‐ it’s like digging up buried treasure ‐ and the sweet taste of fresh carrots makes them want to eat their vegetables!
Careful soil preparation is the key to successful carrots. Carrots like light, sandy loam that’s fine in texture and rich in organic matter. They need a soil that is loose and free of rocks to grow straight roots. Rocky soil or too much nitrogen can cause forked roots. The ideal soil pH is 6.5 to 6.8, but 5.5 to 7.5 is acceptable. Dig in several inches of compost and some sand if you have heavy soil. Loosen the soil with a spading fork as deep as the length of the carrot variety you intend to grow. It’s not practical for most home gardeners to grow long‐rooted varieties ‐ shorter varieties are better suited to average garden soil.
Plant carrots as soon as the soil can be worked, two to three weeks before the last frost. Carrot seeds will germinate when temperatures are as low as 40°F (4°C), but temperatures of 50°‐85°F (10°‐29°C) are preferable.
Water the seed bed before planting. Sow seeds in a 1/2‐inch (12 mm) furrow, 1/4‐1/2 an inch (6‐12 mm) apart, with 6‐12 inches (15‐30 cm) between rows. Cover the seeds with light compost, sand, or vermiculite to prevent the soil from crusting over. Sow deeper in hot conditions. Since carrot seeds are very small, one easy method is to broadcast sow in an 18‐inch (46 cm) wide bed. Raised beds are also good for carrots.
Thinning is important for a good harvest. Thin to 2‐3 inches (5‐8 cm), depending on size of mature carrot, before plants are two inches (5 cm) tall. Thin by cutting to avoid root disturbance.
Carrots are slow to germinate and may take 1‐3 weeks to emerge. One trick is to plant a few radish seeds in the furrow along with the carrot seeds to mark the row. Radishes pop up quickly and can be harvested just after the carrots break through the soil.
Carrots can be sown every three weeks until midsummer for a continuous harvest. Plant a final sowing 85 to 100 days before first frost for an autumn crop.
Good varieties include:
- ‘Touchon’ (65 days)
- ‘Nantes Half‐Long’ (70 days)
- ‘Oxheart’ (65‐90 days), good in heavy soil
- ‘Purple Haze’ (70 days), a purple carrot!
With the right soil, potatoes are easy to grow. Potatoes like loose, well‐drained soil with a pH range of 5.0 to 6.5. They grow best in acid soil with a pH less then 5.5, which prevents scab. An overly acidic soil, however, can result in small potatoes. Avoid too much nitrogen in the soil, or you’ll get lots of foliage and few potatoes. Also avoid planting potatoes where you’ve planted another member of the nightshade family during the past two years.
Potatoes are technically not roots but stem tubers and are grown from seed potatoes, which are pieces of mature potatoes. Buy seed potatoes from a garden center or catalogue, as supermarket potatoes are usually treated so that they won’t sprout. Seed potatoes will keep in the refrigerator for a month.
Seed potatoes have “eyes” or buds that will sprout into potato plants. Cut seed potatoes so that each section has two or three eyes. Small potatoes can be planted whole. To prevent rotting, leave the cut potatoes out in the sun for several days before planting so that the cut surface will dry out.
Potatoes can be planted two to four weeks before the last frost, when the soil is at least 40°F (4°C). Dig in three inches (8 cm) of compost. With a hoe, dig a flat trench four inches (10 cm) deep. Place potatoes cut side down about a foot apart in the trench. Cover with three inches (8 cm) of soil. Allow 2‐3 feet (60‐90 cm) between trenches.
When potatoes are six to eight inches tall, hill them up by hoeing soil dug from the trench to just below the lower leaves of the potato plants. Repeat in two to three weeks. This keeps potato roots cool and prevents potatoes from turning green (which can be toxic) due to sunlight exposure.
Potatoes may be early season, midseason, or late season. Plant some of each for summer eating and winter keeping. Varieties include:
- ‘Yukon Gold’ (yellow, early season, 85‐95 days)
- ‘Red Norland’ (red skin, white flesh, early season, 81‐90 days)
- ‘Yellow Finn’ (yellow, midseason, 95‐100 days)
- ‘Kennebec’ (white, late season, 100 days)
- ‘Bintje’ (yellow, late season, 110‐120 days)
- ‘All‐Blue’ (blue skin and flesh, late season, 100‐110 days).
Once you taste the difference between garden‐fresh and shop‐bought carrots and potatoes, you’ll want to plant them every year!