Many people struggle growing carrots for a variety of reasons, but it doesn't need to be so. Follow these simple rules and it's easy!
Common carrot problems
1) Growing tiny or stunted carrots: Firstly, it is virtually impossible to grow carrots from seedlings. It has been tried over the years by the best and everyone fails. "But you can buy carrot seedlings from nurseries!" I hear you say! Yes, you can buy a lot of cons from nurseries, such as "compost activator" if you want. It doesn't mean it will work! Basically, any vegetable with a tap root (or that the tap root is the edible part you are after) should be avoided as seedlings: parsnip, carrot and beetroot just to name a few. (If you are a soil block user, beetroot can be successfully grown but it is the only exception).
You have to thin carrots quite early on. If you disturb the tap root of a carrot (or any other tap rooted plant for that matter) they simply stop growing downwards. Just use 2 fingers width as a distance measure between the keepers, and pull the smaller seedlings out in between the ones you want to keep. If you only ever want to eat baby carrots, do the same thing but only use one finger width as a guide.
2) Forked carrots (they often look like little people with their bits in the right places). Forking can be attributed to either stones in the ground, or over-feeding. Carrots love growing in sandy soil and don't require to be fertilised very much.
3) Germination of the seeds. Carrot seeds (being so small) cannot be covered very deeply with soil. This means they sit virtually on the surface and once they are wet, they need to be continuously damp to germinate well.
How to fix your carrot problems?
There are a few tricks you can find on the net but I can only tell you what works for me. I don't like being a slave to the garden so watering carrot seeds up to three times a day doesn't suit me very well. This technique below may seem a bit time consuming but it is part of establishing a new garden bed (I'm doing a lot of this at the moment). In 6 months it will be a lot simpler once the soil is more fertile and stone-free.
My recipe for carrot success
1. Wait for a period of weather that is forecast to be wet for several days in a row.
2. Find an appropriate place to plant your carrot seeds
3. In the case of a newly made garden with stones etc., dig a carrot sized hole (to the size the carrot will be at maturity).
4. Remove any stones from the planting hole, even little ones. If required (my garden is new and the soil is poor) add a bit of extra compost to the planting hole.
5. I like to put the carrot seeds that I will be using in a dry container. Why? Well, as you can see, this it a pretty dirty job. If I have dirt on my hands, I won't put them in a seed packet (unless I intend on using all the seeds) because I don't want the risk of wetting or getting a soil-borne disease into the packet. This hard container also makes it easy to hold on an angle and tap the seeds out.
6. Sprinkle the seeds in the planting hole. I will expect to be able to grow 4 carrots in this area after thinning. Lightly cover afterwards with a very fine soil up to a depth of 2mm. Unfortunately carrot seeds won't germinate easily through mulch. Walk away and allow the rain to do its thing
Companion plants for carrots include onions, leeks, lettuce and beans. In warmer months, carrots will happily grow in the shade of taller plants like tomato and celery. Spring-Summer carrots takes about 12 weeks from seed to harvest. In cooler months, it's more like 18 weeks.
Seven days later, the seeds are emerging.
It's now the end of January and we have been harvesting small amounts of carrots for about two weeks. I have been planting new seeds at every wet opportunity (and otherwise fortnightly to keep up with the household carrot demand). Now that the garden beds are starting to build lovely new top soil (through the decomposition of the heavy mulch) I am not needing to add compost to the planting holes (instead I cover the surrounding area with mulch to create future soil). I am also finding I can cover the seeds with a layer of very loose, thinly spread mulch. The compost I was initially using was a bought product that I used to get the garden started. Although its pretty good for bought compost, it's a bit dry and dusty so doesn't retain water very well. Bought compost doesn't compare to real soil or home made compost for that matter. Germination rates are much higher now in the newly amended soil.
Carrots ready to harvest from their planting pocket. I originally thought I would get four carrots per hole but this one comfortably has seven good sized carrots after thinning out the little ones.
Some carrots sitting comfortably among the lettuce, silverbeet and radish.
This picture is for scale. The carrot is about 10cm (the main part of the flesh and not the long taproot).
I have chosen to grow a variety called Scarlet Nantes as it is a smaller carrot and suitable for growing in poor or heavy soils. The bend in the carrot is due to it hitting another carrot whilst growing or a perhaps a stone. It's not a big deal.
As my soil improves I will move on to other carrots like All Season. It's a better tasting carrot (and larger) but if I had tried this variety initially, I think my success rate would have been much worse. I have tried that variety before in poor unimproved soil with limited success.