You know those “1001 Garden Tips” books? The ones that tell you to start your seedlings in eggshells or hang your onions for storage in old nylons? Well, I love those books. I check them out from the library and pour through them for new ideas.
And once upon a time, so many years ago now that I can’t remember which book or where I was living, I ran across a tip for planting carrots.
Carrots are notoriously difficult to germinate. It’s the one refrain I hear most often when talking to backyard gardeners. “My carrots didn’t come up very well”.
I also hate to plant carrots in rows. Plant 1/2 inch apart and then thin to 1 inch apart, the packet says. In other words, fight to plant those little tiny seeds in a straight line, 1/2 inch apart (about the width of my pinky finger), fight to get them to come up, and then thin those little tiny hairlike plants to 1 inch apart. Who are they kidding? Who has that kind of time? I’m planting 75 feet of carrots this year! Better known as 900 inches, times 3 rows. Um…no.”
There is a better way, that has worked for me successfully for at least 10 years (except for the year I mulched them with straw and had damping off issues – don’t do that). I also do this, sans burlap, with my lettuce and spinach seeds.
- In a large bowl, yogurt container, ice cream bucket…what have you, mix your carrot seed with old coffee grounds (probably not necessary, but the original tip included it, and I always have them around as my husband does his best to keep several third world coffee economies afloat. Maybe the slight acidity of the coffee helps with germination?).
- Add a couple of scoops of garden soil and mix again. You want to end up with at least a couple of good-sized handfuls of mix.
- Scatter seed/soil/coffee mixture onto your prepared beds, by the handful, over the area you want to cover. Try to pace yourself. You don’t want to run out of mix before you run out of bed, and you can always go back over it a second time if you have extra.
- Scatter additional soil over your seeds if you don’t feel like they have 1/2 inch of soil over them.
- Cover bed with burlap. Pin corners with metal staples or rocks or what have you to keep it from blowing away in the wind. (Burlap can be found at garden stores in 25 ft. rolls, and can sometimes be had for the asking from your local coffee roaster. If you are dealing with coffee bags, take them apart so they are only one layer thick. You want water to penetrate and some light to get in.)
- Water well, and then water lightly twice a day to keep the burlap damp.
- After about a week, depending on the temperature, start checking for seedlings. As soon as you see a few, remove the burlap.
- Once the majority or your carrots are a few weeks old, thin the few that ended up right next to each other. As they get larger, thin the ones that are only a bit too close, for your first baby carrot harvest.
That’s it. I can almost guarantee that you’ll have better germination than ever before, almost no thinning, and you’ll have a stupendous carrot harvest a few months later.
How many seeds? A typical 1 gram seed pack has about 800 seeds. Figure on about an 80% germination rate. If you were planting a square foot garden (a more accurate idea of spacing than the 1″ apart in rows 16-24″ apart info found on seed packets – which comes from commercial harvesting operations) the recommendation is 16 seeds per square foot. So for my 75 ft row that is 3.5 ft wide, that gives me 75 x 3.5 x 16 = 4,200 seeds. Since only 80% of these will germinate, add an extra 840, for 5,040 seeds, or 6.3 grams. Your quantities will vary. Honestly, I often just eyeball it and come out pretty well.
And when I come up for air after thinking too much about carrot math, I am often greeted by these guys, as I was this morning. California Quail, who’s call sounds like Chi-Ca-Go, Chi-Ca-Go. Hopefully they don’t like carrot seedlings!