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One thing that keeps gardeners on their toes is planning.

Since most crops have a "preferred" maturing temperature, you have to time the planting so the crop will mature during its best season. That being said, there are a few crops that like cool weather, and even though it is hot now, it is time to plant some of those crops that can be harvested into the fall/winter months. Carrots should be at the top of the list.

Carrots are a cool season vegetable, making it a good choice to plant the later part of July up into first part of August so they mature in the cool fall weather. Carrots are also one of the most nutritious vegetables in the home garden. They are especially high in antioxidants. With its sweet taste right out of the garden, the carrot is often used as bait or an enticement in cartoons with Elmer Fudd dangling one over Bugs Bunny's hole to entice him out.

Germination can be the biggest problem when planting carrots. Germination rates are usually around 80 percent and can take up to two weeks or more. Temperature has an effect on the tiny carrot seed also. Soil temperature in the mid-seventies produces the shortest time for the seedling to emerge, a little over a week. Higher temperatures, like now, can delay seedling emergence.

Another problem common in Mid-Missouri's clay type soils is the top of the soil crusting over and preventing the seedling from making it through. One way to eliminate this is to fill your planting trench with potting soil. Then, plant the carrot seeds in the moistened potting soil. The potting soil stays soft and doesn't crust over like regular garden soil does. You can cover the row with a board so the soil will stay moist enough for the seeds to germinate. Remove the board at the first sign a seedling. It will also help keep weeds out of the row until the carrot seedlings are sturdy enough for thinning.

Carrot seeds can be easily discouraged. Once they get going, things get easier. Carrots need loose soil to develop a good shape. Carrot forking, a common problem in our area, is caused by anything that impedes root growth. This includes stones, or even heavy, compacted soil like clay.

Because of the low germination rate, it is best to sow the seed densely, then as the carrots grow, you can thin them at different maturity stages. The young carrots are the sweetest and tastiest. If you like baby carrots, these are the real thing. A lot of baby carrots sold in stores are small carrots that have been carved out of large ones. As the carrots mature and get bigger, they can be cooked as well as eaten raw. For the best size for storing, you want to end up with the carrots about 2-3 inches apart after about 30 days.

Carrots will be ready to harvest in about 70-80 days, when the carrot is about 1-1 inches in diameter. To reduce the chance of the carrot breaking off in the ground, reach into the dirt around the outside of the carrot and gently pull it out or use a spading fork to loosen the soil around the carrot.

Carrots planted in the summer may be left in the soil until the first killing frost or can be covered with a 6-8 inch layer of mulch and harvested as needed through the winter. If you prefer inside storage, wash roots, trim tops to inch from the carrot top, place in perforated plastic bags and store in a refrigerator or cold moist cellar. Storage life is 2-4 months.

On a different note, if you started your fall cabbage, broccoli or other cole crops in early June, it is time to start hardening them off to be planted the last of this month into the first part of August. Also, you can put a last rotation of sweet corn in up to the last of July.

Happy gardening!

Peter Sutter is a lifelong gardening enthusiast and a participant in the University of Missouri Extension's Callaway County Master Gardener program. Gardening questions can be sent to [email protected]

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