Seeding Beets and Carrots with Success
Beets and carrots are a weekly selection at most farm stands for good reason. There are varieties to meet the needs of almost any seasonal slot, and they taste amazing regardless of whether they're fresh out of the ground or have spent months in storage. I really love the point in the season when they are around to stay, and I work a little harder to make sure we get there as soon as possible. We seed early and often to have a good supply across the entire season, and seed both of these crops as early as the ground can be worked. I have also transplanted beets with good success.
Consistent moisture is one of the keys in getting good germination. I try to time my seedings so that the seeds are watered in soon after they go in the ground. If your soil is quick to dry out, using drip irrigation is a good way to give the bed the moisture it needs.
I cover the soil on those first plantings with row cover, putting it right on the ground without any hoops. It helps to warm the soil, hold in moisture, and it also buffers the impact of a heavy rain event. Depending on your soil type, drying out between rain or watering events can create a crust that makes it really hard for the seedlings to emerge once they have germinated. The row cover will also help slow the formation of this crust.
Good soil prep will make a huge difference in the quality of carrots that you harvest. We use a chisel plow to loosen the soil before we make our beds. It rips through the soil, deepening the bed and making it easier for the carrots to grow long and straight. If you don’t have access to a chisel, depending on the size of your plot, using a broadfork or similar tool to work the soil will be worth the effort.
I have been using an Earthway seeder with a custom plate I had made for pelleted carrot seed. Pelleted seeds have a clay coating that builds up the size and shape of the seed to something more uniform and easily run through the seeder. Often times beet seeds are the same size to run through this plate as well. I use tape to cover over a little of the hole on that same plate to reduce the amount of raw seed that the planter puts out. I find I get better results with this than the typical carrot plate that comes with the seeder. It puts out too much seed, which I then have to go back and thin out.
I seed heavier and shallower in the spring than I do in the summer and fall. The market for early carrots and baby beets is such that I can harvest them when they are smaller, so I don’t mind over seeding them. I plant my early seedings shallow so they will be warmed by the sun and germinate faster. As the season progresses, I increase the depth that I plant to keep the seeds out of the hotter zone near the surface of the soil. The wrinkle is making sure that they are getting the moisture that they need. Managing any crusting of the soil becomes really important as the summer goes on, as the hot sun can make this crust really hard to penetrate. Again, using a lightweight row cover can help.
Early Wonder Tall Top is really fast to come out of the ground and puts on a heavy top growth of delicious greens. They will make a nice eating beet if you let them go long enough, but I typically move on to another variety for bunching beets. I really like Red Ace Beet through the summer, and I switch to Boro or Rhonda for storage. These three varieties have a more refined shape, with a small area of leaf attachment that makes them easier to clean for sale or storage. Their eating quality doesn’t diminish if they get large in size, and all will store well. Rhonda is a slower grower than the Red Ace, but it was bred to store for longer periods of time, and will come out of the cooler in great shape.
I like to start the carrot season with Jeanette and Napoli. The Jeanette has a good sweetness and small core with nice tops for bunching. The Napoli is a little firmer carrot, with good flavor and healthy tops. It also holds its eating quality when grown to a larger size. I like planting the Yaya for the heat of the summer season. The tops are smaller, but still make good bunches. I am excited about trying the Miami this year in a main season slot. I use the Negovia as a storage carrot, and am harvesting from the cooler in mid March with really good flavor and quality. I also use it as a late fall bunched carrot before I harvest for storage. The tops’ attachment is really nice and strong, so I don’t have to worry about them falling off when customers are grabbing a bunch from my display.
Best of luck with your season of seeding,
For more information on growing carrots, check out our "Carrot Growing Tips" video: