If you live in an apartment or just don’t have much yard room, fear not! You can still grow all kinds of vegetables in pots and planters. Growing carrots in containers is easy, especially if you choose the right varieties, and the right soil they need in order to thrive.
Root vegetables may not be the first thing to come to mind planning your balcony garden. Most people opt for herbs or tomatoes, but you don’t need to limit yourself. You can grow just about anything you like if you use the right containers.
Carrots are a great addition to any balcony: you simply need to make sure you choose a deep enough pot. If the planter is too shallow, your carrots won’t have enough room to grow properly. I like to use containers that are at least 1ft deep. The larger the pot in diameter/width, the more carrots you can grow.
I’ve done single rows in containers that are about 1ft x 2ft but this year I decided to give square containers with multiple rows a try.
In terms of soil, it’s very important that you choose something that won’t harden or pack down as you water. Carrots prefer sandier soil, as it presents less resistance and therefore requires less force for the roots to grow. If you don’t have access to sandy soil, choose a nice mix of a good quality potting soil mixed with some rich compost.
Just be sure you don’t skimp on the potting soil’s quality! Low-cost potting soil is cheap for a reason, and you’ll end up with stunted or diseased roots. If you don’t believe me just check out the picture I’ve posted below that gives evidence of my experience with low-cost potting soil.
When you start searching for carrot seeds, you’ll notice that there are many different varieties to choose from. It can be an overwhelming experience, so I’ve posted some characteristics that I look for to help narrow down your choices.
I like a variety that’ll produce a root that’s short to medium in length. The package will list the size they’ll mature to, and generally specifies if they’re a shorter or longer variety. If you are able to get really deep pots, you can look at larger varieties. My pots are only about a foot and a half, so I stick to shorter carrots.
I also like to look for sweeter varieties with a smaller core. After all, some cores can get kind of woody if left in the ground too long. Since I have a tendency to let my carrots linger in the ground in fall, I try to select a species that will work best with my habits.
Carrots aren’t really something you can start indoors and then transplant at a later date. I’ve seen seedlings sold in various places and that always puzzled me. I suppose you take the entire clump of earth that they’re in and put it in the ground, but that’s not a great idea. You’d just end up with really dense carrot groupings and you’ll have to thin out most of them anyways.
Sowing time depends a lot on the weather and the zone you’re in. Generally, early to late May is a safe time to start sowing seeds. If you’re worried about frost, you can always cover the containers at night once the carrot seedlings start peeking through the soil.
On the other end of the spectrum, you don’t want to start your seeds too late. The hot sun can burn and kill younglings before they can get strong enough to withstand the heat. I’ve started late crops of carrots in the past and have learned some valuable lessons.
One of the best is to provide some type of cover for them during the hottest part of the day to keep them protected. This could be as simple as making shade out of your balcony furniture, or moving the pot to a more protected area.
You’ll notice that carrot seeds are really tiny. The directions on your package will tell you to sow seeds 1 to 2 inches apart to avoid thinning later on. You can do this, but it’s time intensive. If you’re at all like me, you’ll inevitably drop multiples into several holes.
For this reason, I simply create a small trench about an inch deep and sprinkle seeds all the way along. Fill in the trench once seeded, but don’t pack the earth down on top of the seeds. Watering will pack the earth enough for you.
If you don’t want to bother thinning, then you’ll need to carefully follow the planting instruction on your seed package. If you decide to plant the way I do, then it’s a very important part of the process. Even if you’ve been very careful in your planting, you will still need to check to make sure that thinning isn’t necessary.
I tend to do this once my carrots have grown to about 2 or 3 inches high. Any earlier and it’s hard to have good control over which plants you’re selecting for removal. The reason behind thinning is that you don’t want your carrots to be so densely packed that they don’t have any room to increase in girth. Sometimes you will need to do a second thinning a few weeks later.
I will admit that this year, I failed to do a proper job thinning my carrots. I was having such a poor growing season with the rest of my veg, and I was just so happy to see that something growing, that I was unwilling to pull anything out.
Beyond producing sadly small, stunted carrots, this had the odd side effect of producing tiny mushrooms in amongst my crop. It would seem the densely packed plants created the perfect warm dark environment for them to grow. Who knew?!
Companion Plants for Growing Carrots in Containers
If you feel like growing herbs or other vegetables alongside your carrots, there are a few good ones to choose from.
Rosemary, sage, lettuce, chives, and radishes are all beneficial companions. Radishes will help carrots thrive, and rosemary will help to fend off insect pests.
Avoid: fennel, dill, cilantro, and parsnips.
Along with thinning, it’s very important that you aerate the soil to help the carrots break down through the earth. When you’re growing out in a garden in your yard, your plants have the added benefit of earthworms.
Worms aren’t just great at producing fertilizer for your plants, you know. In fact, the trails they burrow through the earth help to break up the soil, making the carrots’ progression much easier. Growing in containers means that you’ll have to find a way to imitate the earthworms’ work yourself.
Channel their wormy magic. Be the worm…
When I was first starting out, I tried to figure out why I kept ending up with stubby fat little carrots. I asked a lot of questions, and did a tin of research to determine what was going on. It turned out that I needed to do that worm duty and loosen the soil by hand.
When the carrots are still fairly short, a fork will do just fine. Later on, when you want to get down further into the container, a strong fine branch can work. You can even use an old shish kebab stick, meat skewers, you name it, I’ve probably used it.
I seem to have picked up my father’s bad habit of using kitchen utensils in the garden. There are worse habits to pick up, I suppose!
Try to get into the habit of aerating on a weekly basis throughout the summer. If it helps, you can make aeration a part of your watering routine. Slide your device down into the earth about a quarter of an inch away from the carrot’s base, and repeat this all over the container.
Most carrot varieties are ready to harvest between 60-90 days, depending on the cultivar. If you’re maintaining your carrots on a weekly basis, you’ll notice them growing in diameter. As such, you’ll have a pretty good idea of when they’re ready to pick.
I usually pull up a couple of carrots sporadically to see how they’re growing. Doing this will also help you to know if you’re aerating your soil properly, as you’ll get a good idea of their progress. You can also keep your carrots in the soil long after the tops have wilted back.
I’m never able to eat a whole crop at once, so I just pick what I need and leave the rest in the ground until I want to use them. If you do end up with extras to put in the fridge, just make sure you take the tops off so they don’t suck the moisture out of the roots.
As discussed, growing carrots in containers isn’t a difficult task. You just need to make sure that your container is deep enough, your soil allows your carrots to progress, you do proper maintenance and you select a carrot variety that is not too long for the container. If you follow all these pointers, you’ll be rewarded with a crop of wonderful, sweet, crisp carrots. Happy gardening!