How to Plant, Grow, and Save Seeds from Carrot (Daucus carota)
Carrots are appreciated around the world as fresh eating vegetables, kitchen staples, and long-term storage crops. When planting carrots, be aware that they can be finicky in the early part of the season. Carrots are biennials, producing seed after two years of growth, but the reward is well worth the effort. Carrot seed can be used for next year’s crop and also as a culinary spice.
Plant carrot seeds ¼” deep and 1” apart. Later in the spring, thin carrot plants to 2-3” apart in rows 18-24” apart. Plant carrot seeds outdoors as soon as the soil can be worked. As the shoulders of the carrots begin to emerge from the soil, mound a little mulch or dirt around the exposed root to prevent greening.
Carrot plants can suffer from a number of pests and diseases, including carrot rust fly, carrot weevil, cutworm, flea beetle, slugs, leaf blight, and soft rot.
To harvest carrots, pull the roots up by their tops. Be gentle when uprooting carrots; some deep rooted varieties may snap when harvested.
Eating and Storing
Carrots are a versatile culinary crop. They can be used fresh, in salads, diced and simmered with onions and garlic to start many sauces, or they can be roasted and served as a main dish. The texture of carrots holds up to many cooking methods, from stews to pureed soups.
Fresh carrots will last 4-5 months when stored at 33 °F with a relative humidity of 90-95%. They will keep for 7-9 months when stored at 35 °F with a relative humidity of 95-100%.
Carrot is a biennial crop. Biennials typically do not flower in their first growing season. They must first experience cold weather before they flower, set seed, and die in their second growing season.
When saving seeds from carrot, separate varieties by at least 800 feet-½ mile in their second year of growth. To ensure viable seeds, save seeds from at least 5 plants. To maintain a variety over time, save seeds from between 20-50 plants.
To save seeds from carrot, first decide how you will vernalize your plants. Vernalization can happen in the field or in storage. Overwinter carrots in the field if you will have 10-12 weeks of cool weather (around 50 °F) without regular temperatures below 15 °F.
In the northern United States, where winter temperatures frequently fall below 15 °F, carrots must be dug before the first hard frost and vernalized in storage. If possible, dig carrots when the soil is relatively dry; shake or gently brush the roots to remove as much soil as possible, but do not wash them. Trim tops down to just above the crown by making two or three diagonal cuts upward from the base of the leaf stems, being careful not to cut the crown of the plant.
Carrot roots can be stored in perforated plastic bags or any ventilated container: in bags, evenly disperse wood shavings around the carrot roots; in containers, line the bottom of the container with wood shavings, clean sand, or dry leaves, and then alternate each layer of carrots with a thin layer of whatever storage medium is being used. Cull diseased or off-type roots prior to storage and again before replanting.
In the spring, roots should be removed from storage and prepared for replanting. Each plant should be set so the plant’s crown is just above the soil line, mimicking the height of the crown during its first season in the garden. When growing carrots for seed, increase spacing to 6-18” between plants, in rows 24-48” apart. Staking is recommended.
As carrot seeds mature, they turn from green to tannish brown; fully mature seeds detach from the plant. Individual seed heads can be harvested by cutting stems several inches below the umbels. The harvested material should be moved to a well-ventilated space that is protected from rain for further drying for 5-14 days.
Carrot seeds can be easily threshed by rubbing the seed heads between one’s hands or against a fine mesh screen. Because each pair of seeds is held on by a thin stem, dislodging the seeds into a container by gently brushing the tops of the seed heads results in a cleaner seed lot containing fewer dry flower stems.
Store carrot seeds in a cool, dark, and dry place in an airtight container to keep out moisture and humidity. When stored under these conditions, carrot seeds can be expected to remain viable for up to six years.