2008 was the first year I really grew carrots well in my garden. Clay soil is not great for carrots. I had abandoned them for years, but decided the soil was good enough to try them again. I grew shorter carrots to make my life easier. But this year I wanted to try long pretty carrots - imperator style carrots. I double dug the bed so they would have free reign to grow. I chose SugarSnax as the best of the pretty carrots to try. I did have four different varieties and I'll discuss them at the end.
I did notice in all the carrots and all the plantings that anytime I didn't thin to at least 3" apart the carrots were small and slow to grow. I always want to leave the good growing seedlings, but I must be ruthless.
I did three sowings of carrots over the year and I'm going to go over each one individually.
The first sowing was on March 27th. We were getting some nice weather so I decided if I could get the carrots to germinate (using burlap), they would grow just fine. And they did - slowly as usual for carrots. They were thinned on May 30th and again in mid June (with eatable thinnings), so grew very slowly in the cool weather. They were harvested over time in mid July. So they took 3 1/2 months to grow to full size from sowing.
These early carrots were grown in the middle of the eggplant and tomatillo bed. They had 7' x 1' of growing space. I put in four rows (of four different varieties) each spaced three inches apart. This worked well in the eggplant section. The eggplants didn't grow fast enough to shade out the carrots. In the tomatillo section the tomatillos started shading the carrots in late June. Nematodes were a problem. About a third of the SugarSnax (long carrots) had issues with stunting and forking due to nematodes. The other varieties showed nematode damage too. There was a little carrot fly damage, but not much.
I harvested 3.5 lbs of carrots from the 7 sq ft area.
The second planting was on May 14th. They were planted between my peppers and tomatoes in a 12' x1' section. I had three rows each four inches apart (four varieties - one row was split by Atomic Red and Big Top) . They were thinned on July 17th. The first picking was in the middle of September, but the carrots were still a bit small. Once the peppers shading them were removed, they bulked up quickly. By mid October they were a good size.
These carrots took five months to grow to full size. Unlike the first carrot harvest there was no nematode damage to be seen and very little forking. Almost all the SugarSnax were long beautiful carrots. These carrots were grown near Ground Control marigolds. I spaced the marigolds between every other tomato, but behind the tomatoes, while the carrots were in front of the tomatoes. They weren't that close, but it was good enough. For those that want more precise measurements the marigolds were four feet apart in the long direction of the bed and about 2-3' away from the carrots in the other direction. Let us just say I will always grow my carrots with marigolds whenever I can. Sadly early spring is a bit too cold for a marigold.
I still had carrot fly this time worse than in the spring, but still not bad. It affected maybe one in every eight carrots and usually only at the tip, which was easy to just cut off.
I harvested 7.3 lbs of carrots from this 12 sq ft of space. Which was a better yield than the spring carrots even though there was one less row.
The last sowing was on July 24th, in a different bed. I did prepare the soil well for them even if I didn't double dig it. There were however no marigolds close to protect them. Unlike my other sowings, this one had bad germination and it was really too late to try another sowing. They are still not sized up enough. They are still baby carrots. I've sown carrots on July 15th (I think, haven't double checked) and that was long enough, so that one extra week makes a lot of difference. I think in the heat of summer it would be better to use a board to help with germination. My dark brown burlap heats up the soil too much. Cooling it down with a a board might be better.
I grew four varieties this year. The first and best is SugarSnax. This is a hybrid. It is reported to grow about 9", but can get up to 11". I forget how long they were in the spring, but the fall carrots were mostly 6" and up, with some getting to eight inches long. It might not grow as well for me as stated, but I love this carrot. I love the long slender roots which are easy to peel. I love the sweet taste. I love that it gave the biggest best carrots of all the ones I grew. I will grow this next year. Most of my carrots will be this variety.
I grew Atomic Red because red carrots are fun. That being said I was less than impressed. The carrots did not germinate well. The ones that did were prone to damping off. When they did get started they were slow to grow. Their final tally was about 1/3 of SugarSnax in the spring and about 1/5 for the fall carrots (please note that I didn't keep track of the whole harvest by carrot type, but the big ending harvests I did, so I used that as a guideline). Their high point was taste. I think they were the second tastiest carrot after SugarSnax. They weren't a really sweet carrot, but they did have a lot of carrot taste. I've seen catalog descriptions that say it is better in soups than fresh because of their strong taste, but I would disagree with this. I loved them fresh. That being said, I won't grow them again. Not enough carrot for the effort.
Danvers was bred for heavy clay soils. It has a more fibrous core to power its way through. I grew it for this reason. It was indeed easy to grow. It was the second best producer in the garden. It produced about 3/5 of what SugarSnax did. Its roots were short and very wide if left in the ground for a while. I don't like the taste. It is bitter. I'll only use it in soups. I won't grow it again.
The last carrot I grew was Big Top. It was a fine middle of the road carrot. Nothing great about it and nothing bad. It produced about 1/2 of SugarSnax. It tastes good. I probably won't grow it again just because I could try something different.
For next year I'll probably stick to the same timing I used this year. It worked. I'll forego the last sowing since the May sowing doesn't come out of the ground until fall anyway. I'll grow SugarSnax and probably pick another variety to try, but if I only grew SugarSnax, I'd be happy. I'll need several packets though if I want to sow it all with one variety.