How To Grow The Sweetest Carrots

Carrots in the garden by Carmen Edenhofer
Image by Carmen Edenhofer

Nothing beats a freshly dug carrot in terms of flavour and sweetness. But do you want to learn how to make your carrots even sweeter?

To grow sweet carrots, the first step is to choose the sweetest varieties. Another factor to consider is that carrots are light feeders, so adding too much fertilizer (especially nitrogen) can make them coarse and hairy. It is good to wait until the carrot has reached maturity which is when they contain the most sugar, but do not wait too long or they start converting the sugar into starch. Finally, carrots are able to produce the most sugar when the days are warm and the nights are cool.

Every vegetable in your garden has specific requirements for healthy, vigorous growth. Carrots are no exception. Below, we are going to discuss how to create an ideal growing environment to produce the sweetest carrots.

6 Steps To Growing Sweet Carrots

When you have gone your whole life eating carrots purchased from a grocery store, it is an eye-opening, and delightful, experience to eat a carrot picked fresh from the garden. Why are carrots from the store so much worse?

Carrots in a grocery store are often harvested when they are too mature. This is because over-mature carrots store better (since their sugar levels have started decreasing) so they can be transported further without spoiling. It also has a lot to do with which variety of carrots they grow, since most large carrot distributors are concerned with quantity and uniformity rather than quality.

Now lets look at how to make your carrots as sweet as they can be by considering these 6 important points.

  1. Choose a sweet variety of carrot
  2. Avoid over-feeding
  3. Harvest at the right time
  4. Keep an eye on the temperature
  5. Chill Sweetening
  6. Cooking makes them sweeter

1. Choose A Sweet Variety Of Carrot

It is important to remember that a carrot’s flavour is determined mostly by genetics, and not your garden’s growing conditions. No matter how favorable you make the growing conditions, you cannot make a non-sweet carrot sweet. You can, however, make a sweet carrot sweeter.

There are several varieties of carrot that are know for their natural sweetness:

Bolero
Ithaca
Little Finger
Scarlet Nantes
Nantes Half Long
Royal Chatenay
Short ‘n Sweet
St Valery
Touchon
Purple Dragon

Remember that each variety will mature at a different time, and having your carrots mature at the right time of year can also have a big impact on the final sweetness of the carrot (more on this below).

2. Avoid Over-Feeding

Like many root vegetables, carrots are considered a light feeder. This means they do not need as many nutrients like some other crops. Applying a heavy amount of fertilizer can produce coarse, woody carrots. This is particularly true of nitrogen.

Nitrogen encourages the growth of a plant’s stems and leaves. Because of this, applying nitrogen to the soil in your carrot bed can produce coarse, hairy carrots. When choosing a companion plant for your carrots, it is important to remember that beans and peas fix nitrogen into the soil. Not only do the carrots attract bugs that are beneficial for the other plants, but the legumes should provide all the nitrogen your carrots would need.

Wood Ash

Wood ash is high in potassium, which promotes root growth, is an excellent amendment for carrots.

Adding compost or well-rotted manure to your carrot patch is extremely beneficial. However, since carrots are light feeders, you do not have to get too carried away. It is better to apply the extra compost to the heavy feeders in your garden such as corn or potatoes. If you are using manure, be particularly careful that manure from equines and poultry is very well-rotted since manure from these animals is especially high in nitrogen.

3. Harvest At The Right Time

As a carrot root begins to develop, it produces an organic compound called terpenoid. Terpenoids are what give carrots their “carroty” flavour. Once a carrot reaches a certain stage, it begins manufacturing sugar in its root through photosynthesis in its tops. Harvesting a carrot too early will mean there are more terpenoids than sugar, and the carrot will taste rather soapy.

Carrot tops by Carmen Edenhofer
Image by Carmen Edenhofer

A carrot will continue to create sugar until it reaches maturity. A carrot is considered mature when it has reached full colour, and this is the peak time to harvest a carrot for maximum sweetness. A few days later, a carrot will start converting it’s sugar into starch, so it is able to last longer and start growing seed heads on the plant. The longer you wait, the less sweet your carrots will be so monitor your carrots closely, and follow the “days to maturity” listed on the seed packets.

4. Keep An Eye On The Temperature

Carrots will be sweetest when the days are warm and the nights are cool as they mature. Carrots are a cool-season plant and do not do well in excessive heat. A carrot produces its sugar through photosynthesis in the warmth of the sun. To make sure your carrots are sweet, it is best to harvest them on a warm afternoon after they have spent the whole day manufacturing sugar.

It is ideal when nighttime temperatures remain cool, so the carrots will rest and not consume the sugar they created in the day. If temperatures during the night stay over 15°C (60°F) then the carrot will start using its stored sugar.

5. Chill Sweetening

Another way to sweeten carrots is to leave them in the ground as the temperatures drop in the fall. This process is known as chill sweetening. The cold temperatures create a natural phenomenon where the root starts converting starches back into sugars. Many carrot growers who live in short-season areas will leave their carrots in the ground until after a few hard frosts. This allows their carrots to be mature enough to store for the winter (since thick cored carrots store better) while still maintaining a sweet flavour.

6. Cooking Makes Them Sweeter

Sometimes your fresh carrots won’t be as sweet as you would like. This is especially true at the end of the year when your carrots have been stored all winter. Cooking makes a carrot sweeter because it breaks down the terpenoids, and releases sugars by weakening the cell walls.

A good carrot is tasty whether it is cooked, raw, frozen, grated, or pickled. Hopefully, this article gave you some ideas how to make your already delicious carrots even sweeter.

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About the Author Harry Thompson

Involved in home renovations throughout his life, Harry is an expert in everything to do with home and garden DIY. In his spare time, he enjoys cooking and tending to his garden.