Logistics: We grow 300-foot rows at 4 rows per bed spaced 15” apart. We grow 6 beds in the spring, 4 for the fall, and 4 for winter storage. We use the y-12 roller in the Jang Seeder. We try to seed them so we don’t have to thin them. We seed Napoli in the hoophouse in February for early summer harvest, Nantindo and Rainbow carrots for summer harvest, Nantindo for fall, Bolero for storage, and if they don’t come up, Napoli is our backup as it has good germination and faster days to maturity than Bolero.
We grow lots of carrots on the farm, but they can be one of the trickiest crops to grow because they need so much weeding and attention. Oftentimes the weeds grow faster than the carrots. The goal is to always get the weeds before they become the same size as the carrots, otherwise, hand weeding is the only thing that can really do the trick (and we have a trick for this too!).
There’s a few strategies for reducing the weed pressure on carrots:
- stale seed bedding: preparing a bed, letting the weeds germinate, and then basket-weeding and killing the weeds before seeding
- flame weeding: using a flame weeder to burn germinating weeds
- silage tarping: smothering weeds
There are certain advantages and disadvantages to each:
Stale Seed Bedding
- Fast turnaround
- Beds get ruined if a heavy rain event occurs between the time you prepare the bed and seed
- Good for broad leaves
- Doesn’t bring up any more weed seeds because there is no disruption to the soil
- Doesn’t do a good job with thistle and grasses
- Allows beds to be prepared well in advance of seeding and keeping them intact despite any rain eventsGood for broad leaves
- Heavy to move and labor intensive to put out
- Sometimes doesn’t smother thistle and certain grasses
- Take at least 4 weeks to smother weeds, better in the higher heat of summer
We have used all three of these strategies at times, and sometimes there are scenarios when one seems more appropriate than others. Or sometimes, we use all three! I’ll walk you through our decision making and carrot bed prep process:
In recent years with the heavy spring rainfalls, it makes stale seed bedding either with the basket weeder or flame weeder very difficult. With clay soil, once our prepared beds get pounded by a heavy rain, the soil compacts down and makes it difficult to seed into. So we have deemed the most strategic thing for us is to silage tarp.
We prepare our 6 carrot beds in our earliest dry window. Because the temperatures are usually cooler in the spring, the silage tarp will need to be down longer to work. Our one set of silage tarps are big enough to cover four of the beds. We secure the tarp with lots of sandbags on the edges and then some down the three middle aisles. We make sure to overlap the two 150’ long silage tarps by at least 6 feet to prevent water from sliding underneath in the middle of the field.
Our other two beds are the ones we want to seed our first round of carrots into. We aim to traditional stale seed bed these beds. We cover with a row cover to help the weeds germinate, and then ideally we take our Allis Chalmers G and basket weeder through a week later to kill those weeds. This year, we did this but had a very dry stretch so the weeds didn’t really germinate. We got to our seeding date and still the weeds hadn’t really emerged. So we basket weeded anyway, and seeded into the bed. We recovered with row cover to keep them warm.
We did get some nice rain for the carrots, but also for all the weeds too! We peeled back the row cover to check on the carrots’ germination process to see the weeds finally had come out. So, knowing our carrots were still safe underground, we flame weeded our rows of carrots. Unfortunately, one of our early spring soil pests, the seedcorn maggot, ate the carrot seeds, and we had to scrap those first two beds. So we uncovered two of our protected silage tarp beds and seeded into them as our first succession. We retilled the scrapped beds, resetting the weed clock, and pulled the silage tarp over them.
When the silage tarp works, it makes hand weeding unbelievably easy, and saves time in that you don’t have to do any post-seeding flame weeding/cultivation. Our one trick for hand weeding is using old butter knives! We scrape all the weeds and soil in the row of carrots to fully get all germinating and thread stage weeds. It is like a mini scuffle hoe instead of having to use your hands.
Once they are a bit larger, we use our finger weeder wheel hoe, and eventually use shovels on our Farmall A to bury any last weeds in the row.
We move the silage tarp onto our fall carrots as soon as we are done with it for our spring carrots, and then again for our winter carrots! We fold it hot dog style all the way down, and then walk the ends down to edge of the field until its small enough to tie drip tape around it. We use our tractor bucket to move it from field to field.
If you have any carrot questions, they’re Kirstie’s favorite crop to grow, so she is a wealth of knowledge! You can reach Kirstie at firstname.lastname@example.org.