Growing Carrots and Parsnips
for Lots of Fresh Vitamins
Growing carrots and parsnips in your garden will offer you an excellent combination of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants for your diet. Both roots are high in soluble fiber that can help lower cholesterol levels (specifically LDL).
Carrots are an excellent source of beta-carotene which your body converts into vitamin A and uses to maintain healthy vision. Both vegetables contain significant levels of niacin, vitamin C, and B6. They also provide important trace metals such as magnesium and potassium.
Of course, your vegetables can only incorporate nutrients that are present in the soil. This means you should enrich your garden with organic compost to replenish the dirt and ensure a wholesome crop. You can also test your soil once a year to ensure that no vital component is missing.
As with most vegetables that are harvested for their tap root, growing carrots and parsnips from seed works best. These seedlings don’t transplant well because there is no “root ball” – only a central shoot that will be damaged if it is disturbed.
Fortunately, growing carrots and parsnips outside is easy as long as your soil is well drained. A pH between 6 and 6.8 works well for these root vegetables. Higher (more alkaline) levels are OK, but an acidic pH will inhibit growth.
The soil should be light and loose (not compacted). It needs to be at least 8” deep for carrots and 12” or more for parsnips. If you live in an area with heavy clay dirt, these vegetables will grow best in a raised garden bed that has been amended with loam and compost.
Remove any rocks. Tap roots will split and branch out if they hit an obstruction. Choose shallow rooted plants such as Little Finger or Danvers Half Long if you want to grow carrots in containers.
Planting & Care
Carrot seeds should be sown directly outdoors after the last hard freeze in the spring. They can survive a late, mild frost. So you don’t have to be as careful with them as you would with other, more delicate plants. Most varieties take about 2-3 months to mature and can be left in the ground until you are ready to harvest them. However, you should pull them before the soil freezes.
Plant parsnip seeds later in the spring. They have a long growing season of 4-6 months. These slow growing parsnips should only be harvested after the weather turns cold. That’s what gives these roots their distinctive, sweet flavor. You can even cover them with dirt through the winter and pull them in the early spring for a special treat.
For both types of vegetable, plant rows at least 12” apart and cover the seeds with 1/4-1/2″ of dirt. Coat the space between the rows with organic mulch or strips of black and white newsprint. This will help keep moisture in the soil and prevent weeds from gaining a foothold. That’s important since you will have to pull any weeds by hand to avoid disturbing these edible roots.
In our experience, these seeds may germinate after 2 weeks or take more than a month. Just be patient and most of them will sprout if you used good quality seed. Once the seedlings are established and about 1-2” high, thin so they are at least 3” apart.
Ruthless thinning is absolutely essential. We’ve tried growing carrots closer together just to see what would happen. They don’t bulk out at all but remain about a quarter of an inch thick even after months of growing. You can toss these slender roots in a salad, but they don’t have a very hearty flavor.
Water your growing parsnips and carrots thoroughly once a week. The soil should be soaked to a depth of at least 1”. Shallow watering does more harm than good. It trains the roots not to grow deep and strong.
Taper off the watering schedule when harvest time approaches. Otherwise, the vegetables may split from absorbing too much moisture. If you see thick root tops poking out of the soil, cover them with dirt so they don’t start to turn green from exposure to sunlight.
For a continuous crop of carrots, plant a new batch every month. Just be aware that if they mature at temperatures above 70 degrees, they may be somewhat bitter. When the temp starts to rise, pull up these root vegetables early and enjoy the tender taste of baby carrots with ginger and mint glaze.
Growing carrots and parsnips in full sun is ideal, but both will tolerate partial shade. This means you can save the sunnier spots in your vegetable garden for peppers and other sun-loving plants.
Image courtesy of CC license by Flickr user Becoming Green