Carrots and Parsnips
Carrots and Parsnips are easy to start from seed, but require more bed prep than most fall veggies. Depending on the length of the vegetable you’re trying to grow, you will need to ensure that the garden bed is clear of stones and well turned over for at least the top 8-10” of soil. Smaller carrots don’t need as deeply tilled beds. Any debris in the bed can make the carrot root split (if you see a carrot with legs, this is why). Do NOT add manure to your soil prior to planting, as it can cause forking as well. Ensure proper drainage and 6-8 hours of sun in the area as well.
Root Vegetables should be started once the weather begins to cool off. Do not start them indoors. The sensitive roots usually can’t handle being moved around much. If it is too hot/dry, seedlings will die.
Carrot and Parsnip seeds should be planted about 2” apart with about a foot between rows. Parsnip seeds can have a low germination rate, so seed these thicker. Barely cover the seeds. Seed strips are easy to make and make spacing much easier.
How to make seed strips:
1) Lay out strips of 2-ply toilet paper on a hard, portable surface
2) Use a spray bottle to dampen with water
3) Use a seed separator or your fingers to add carrot seeds one at a time to the damp paper -
2” between seeds - you can put a single row or 2 rows in one sheet
4) Add a second sheet or fold the paper over to cover the seeds
5) Pat the paper down and dampen again with water
6) Make a slight ditch in your garden bed that is wide enough to accommodate the strip.
Barely cover with dirt.
Carrots germinate fairly quickly. Parsnips are slower. Once they are a few inches tall, thin them to 3” apart. Use scissors to snip the top of the plant, rather than pulling them up and damaging other roots. Gently mulch around your remaining seedlings to retain moisture and block the sun from the roots.
Water at least 1”/week. When the plants are forming the thick root that we eat, they are storing massive amounts of energy in that root to feed the plant while it makes seeds. Any stress during this time can stunt the root growth. Fertilize your plants 5-6 weeks after you start them. Carrots taste much better after a few frosts. After the first hard frost of the fall, cover the rows with an 18” layer of shredded leaves to preserve them for later harvests. However, if your ground freezes, you should pull them and can store them in a cellar like potatoes (don’t wash them). Parsnips that can remain in the ground will sweeten towards spring.
Carrots are ready to harvest when they are of a usable size. You can determine this by feeling the circumference of the root around the crown (where the green leaves jut out of the soil). If this is of a sufficient size, you can gently pull the carrot straight up. Do not use tools, as you can damage the root or other carrots around it. Pick the largest carrots first, leaving smaller ones more room to develop.
Parsnips take much longer to mature, about 90 days. If you pick them early, they can still be used, they just won’t be as sweet or as large. Substitute parsnips into any recipe that calls for carrot.
If you want to harvest your own seeds, you must leave the root in place to feed the plant. Carrots and Parsnips are biennial, so they will make the thick root the first year and flower/ make seeds the second. Carrot-family flowers are a favorite food of certain butterfly larvae. Most bugs will not attack carrots (except for an occasional grasshopper/caterpillar eating leaves) but small animals and wireworms can go for the roots.