Why Are My Homegrown Carrots So Small? (Surprising!)

Carrots are one of my favorite vegetables to grow on the homestead.  I grow hundreds of them every year.  Carrots are so versatile and can be stored for months, both in the ground or in the freezer.  

One of the most common questions I get asked when I do homestead talks around the country is ‘Why are my homegrown carrots so small?’

There are a number of reasons homegrown carrots are so small and these include because the soil was too heavy, because the carrots weren’t thinned during the growing season, and because the carrots were fertilized with too much nitrogen.  Growing carrots in soil that is too rich and overwatering can also cause carrots to grow small and stumpy rather than long and slender.

What Is The Best Soil For Growing Carrots?

The part of the carrot plant we eat is actually the carrot plant’s stored energy for the following year.  Carrots are biennial, meaning in their first year they grow strong top growth and store as much energy as possible for the second year (the carrot) and in their second year, they put all that stored energy into flowering and making seeds.

To grow long, slender carrots, the carrot plants need to be grown in loose, friable soil that is easy for the carrot roots to be able to push their way through.  If like me, you have heavy clay soil, it will need a lot of improvement if you want to grow long carrots.

To improve my own soil ready to grow carrots I had to dig in several hundred pounds of sand plus lots of homemade garden compost. My soil still is far from ideal, but it is much lighter now.

If your own soil is heavy clay, try growing your carrots in planters or raised beds filled with compost.  Compost is the ideal medium for growing carrots.  It is light, easy to water, and can be dug out and replaced each year.

Do You Have To Thin Carrots As They Grow?

Another major cause of carrots that are too small is failing to thin carrots out during the growing season.  

Thinning out is just the name we give to the process of removing some of the carrots so the remaining carrots have ample room to grow.  When we sow our carrot seeds we inevitably end up with far more carrots per foot than we need.  

If we have too many carrots growing in a small space, there won’t be enough water or nutrients for all the carrots, so we end up with small, spindly carrots.

How to thin carrots?

I often get asked ‘what is the best way to thin carrots?’. There is no real secret to thinning out carrots, you simply remove as many carrots as you need to so the remaining carrots have enough space.  I like to use the take 2 leave 1 technique.  I pull 2 carrots out then leave the next one.  Repeat across the row until you have some well-spaced carrots.

You may well find that you have to thin your carrots out two or three times during the growing season.  

Do Carrots Need Fertilizer?

Carrots are one crop that I don’t make any attempt to fertilizer whilst they are growing.  If your carrots have lovely, lush green tops, but little or no carrot roots, there is a good chance the plants received too much nitrogen. 

Nitrogen is responsible for the leafy sections of plants, so when we have lots of healthy top growth, but no carrot growth, excess nitrogen is often the cause.

In my experience, carrots do not need any extra fertilization.  Just prepare the ground well and the carrots will take care of the rest.

Is The Soil Too Rich For Carrots?

Much like fertilizer, having soil that is too rich can cause your carrots to fail to develop any roots. Rich soil can also cause carrots to be forked and twisted.

If you add manure to your carrot patch prior to planting, you will not have a good crop.  I remember one of the first years I grew carrots.  I spent a week digging in lots of well-rotted manure from my horses.  The ground was in great condition.  The problem was, my carrots were a disaster.  Twisted and gnarly, the entire crop was in editable and ironically, was fed back to my horses.

These days I usually sow my carrots in the ground that had the potatoes growing in it during the previous year.  I don’t do anything to the soil other than rake it level.  Potatoes are a hungry crop and they will have used many of the nutrients from the soil, plus, digging up all those potatoes makes the ground loose and friable. Admittedly, with this system I do end up with the occasional potato I didn’t dig up growing in my carrot bed, but I can live with that.

How Much Water Do Carrots Need?

Another major cause of poor carrot growth is overwatering.  The carrot is the carrot plant’s root and part of its job is to go deep down into the soil in search of moisture.  

Research has shown that many homesteaders water incorrectly.  The study showed that too many people just add a sprinkle of water to the surface. 

What this means for the carrot is the water never penetrates very deeply, so there is no need for the carrot to go down in search of water.  Instead, the closer to the surface the carrot root stays, the more water it receives.

I never water my carrots once the top growth is established. Once I have a decent quantity of top growth, I leave the carrot root to do its job and go down in search of moisture.  The exception to this would be if we suffer from a heatwave that lasts more than a couple of weeks.

When I do water, I water long and slow.  I want the water to penetrate deep into the soil.

My Final Thoughts On ‘Why Are My Homegrown Carrots So Small?’

There can be a number of reasons your homegrown carrots are so small.  Most of them can be avoided and prevented with a little bit of knowledge, experience, and crop management.  If you have had a bad crop this year, don’t beat yourself up, just plan for the following year and learn by your experiences.

Arya Patel

Arya Patel is HomesteadSavvy.com’s fruit and vegetable editor. Arya has been homesteading for well over a decade and over that time she has grown countless varieties of fruits and vegetables. She aims to become completely self-sufficient over the next 5 years.
Fruit & Vegetable Editor