A 5 gallon bucket has enough space to grow roughly 12 carrots. You could plant more carrots for a mixed harvest, and pick the extra ones as baby carrots so that the others have room to grow to their full-size.
That sounds like a good idea because you get more carrots from your bucket, and more food is always welcome.
But, if you sow more seed to get those extra carrots, there is one major problem you have to watch out for.
In this post, I’ll tell you all about that, and I’ll cover everything else you need to know to grow a successful crop of carrots in a 5 gallon bucket.
How Many Carrots Can You Grow In A 5 Gallon Bucket?
The maximum number of carrots you should aim to grow in a 5 gallon bucket is between 12 and 25 for a mixed-size crop.
If you only want to harvest full-size carrots, then aim for 12.
But if you want to pick a few early, super-sweet baby carrots, you can sow 25 seeds.
And if you want to grow an entire bucket of baby carrots you can plant even more, just remember the more you crowd your carrots and the earlier you pick them, the less actual carrot you get to eat. For a bucket of baby carrots I wouldn’t plant more than 40.
I base many of my plant spacings on square foot gardening planting densities, even though I don’t strictly follow the rest of the guidelines.
In case you haven’t heard of square foot gardening, it’s a method of intensive growing that gets enormous yields from small spaces.
And enormous yields are what every vegetable gardener wants.
Mel Bartholomew is the green-fingered pioneer behind the method and in his book, All New Square Foot Gardening, he recommends planting 16 carrots per square foot.
Since a 5 gallon bucket has a planting surface of .78 square feet, it’s not really big enough for 16 carrots, whereas 12 is a good fit for the slightly smaller planting area.
Watch Out For Carrot Fly If You Mix Baby Carrots With Full-Size Carrots
Carrot fly is a real nuisance for anyone attempting to grow carrots. The flies lay eggs in your growing carrots, the grubs burrow in, eat away at the carrots, and cause them to rot.
And the most common time for these pests to attack is when you thin out carrots to give the rest enough growing room.
That’s because thinning out carrots releases an aroma which attracts carrot flies.
Because you’re growing in buckets, you’re already one step ahead when it comes to carrot flies because they fly fairly close to the ground. Since the carrots you grow in buckets are about one and a half feet above the ground, you should have fewer problems.
I grow in raised beds which also helps, but to give my carrots the best chance of escaping carrot fly damage, I alternate rows of carrots with rows of onions.
By growing the two together, the much stronger aroma of the onions hides any aroma the carrots give off.
If you scatter a few onion seeds in the spaces between your carrots, the growing onion greens will mask the aroma of the baby carrots when you harvest them. You can pick the onions and use them as green onions (spring onions) once they’re big enough.
Don’t worry about figuring out which plants are the carrots and which are the onions, the foliage is entirely different.
Another thing you can do to protect carrots from carrot fly and other pests is to use an insect screen over your buckets – see below.
How To Prepare Your Bucket Before You Plant Carrots
Start with a clean bucket – make sure you wash it out to remove any trace of the original contents.
Mark out 10 drainage holes around the outer edge of the bottom of the bucket with a marker pen.
Then mark out 7 more about half way between the first set and the middle of the bucket.
Use a 5mm or 10mm (1/4 to 1/2 inch) drill bit to make large holes in the bottom of the bucket. 10mm is better but you can use whatever drill bit you have.
Good drainage is a must for containers, and poor drainage is a common reason for lackluster growth and disappointing harvests.
Without adequate drainage the bottom section of the bucket will become waterlogged. This creates an anaerobic (without oxygen) zone that spells disaster for your plants.
And with carrots, if the roots have to grow in soggy soil, you’ll get those ugly, hairy white roots growing all over your nice orange carrots.
What Kind Of Potting Soil Is Best For Carrots Grown In 5 Gallon Bucket?
Carrots need a fairly loose soil for best growth, they don’t do well in heavy, compacted soil. A good multi-purpose compost or all-purpose potting soil is ideal.
If you want, you can mix in 3 or 4 handfuls of sand to further improve your drainage.
Press the soil down to remove air pockets.
Because carrot seed is so tiny, spread about 1 inch of seed starting mix over the surface of your potting soil. This will make it much easier for your carrot seed to germinate.
Before you sow the seeds, give the soil a thorough soaking with a watering can or garden hose, then let it drain.
Now you can sow the carrot seed.
Why You Need To Sow Seed Directly Into the Bucket
With some vegetables you can start the seed in small pots indoors to get a head start on your gardening. Once they reach a suitable size, you simply transplant the youngsters into their final growing positions.
You can’t do this with carrots!
The carrot that you eat is actually the taproot of the plant, and it develops very early. If you tried to transplant a carrot seedling you would damage the tap root and ruin the plant.
Carrots need to be sown where you want them to grow.
For large carrots, sow seed 4 inches (10 cm) apart. For baby carrots, sow seed closer at 2 inch (5 cm) spacing.
Drop a pinch of seed into each sowing spot in your bucket, then press the seed into the potting soil.
Don’t try to save seed by only sowing one seed per station. Carrot seed is pretty finicky, and you’ll get anywhere from 60% to 90% germination.
So you really do need to pop several seeds into each spot to make sure that at least one of them germinates.
Now sprinkle a light covering of damp potting soil over the seed. A quarter inch (6mm) is plenty.
Carrot seed must stay damp while it germinates, so take a piece of clear plastic, (an opened out sandwich bag or square of bubble wrap is fine) and cover the soil to keep the moisture in.
After 2 or 3 weeks you should see very fine growth begin to appear. Once it does, you can remove the plastic and give the bucket a light watering.
Pinch out any extra seedlings, so you only have one left in each growing spot. Here they are 10 days later.
If you’re going to sow some onion seed with your carrots, wait until the carrots emerge because onion seed germinates much faster and the onion seedlings will struggle to grow under plastic while they’re waiting for the carrot seeds to catch up.
As an alternative to plastic, you can use a spray bottle to keep the surface of the soil moist.
Here are the seedlings with onion seed sown in the gaps. Onion seed is black so you can’t see it, but trust me it’s in there. I used about 6 onion seeds per spot.
How Often Do You Water Carrots Growing In A 5 Gallon Bucket?
The soil in containers tends to dry out much faster than soil in garden beds.
This is especially true during hot weather.
You’ll need to water at least once a week, but the best way to know if your carrots need water is to push your finger about half an inch into the soil and test for moisture. If it feels dry, water.
Take care not to ruin young seedlings with a heavy burst of water from your garden hose or watering can. Seedlings are delicate early on so treat them gently.
To begin with I use a squeeze bottle.
Carrots are usually ready to harvest 65 to 75 days after sowing.
These carrots managed to survive the unrelenting heat we had this year. The white carrot you see was from the same sowing and it grew right in the middle of the bucket. At first I thought some parsnip seed had been mixed in with the carrot seed and I’d missed it – but nope, it was definitely a carrot.
How Do You Stop Pests Eating Your Carrot Plants?
Insects and slugs are the wee beasties you need to watch out for with most vegetable plants, and carrots are no exception.
To keep carrot fly at bay, push a few short bamboo canes or pea sticks into your bucket as a frame for a fine mesh net.
Drape the mesh over the top of the sticks, then pull it down just past the rim of the bucket. Use a length of string tied around the bucket to secure the net.
And as long as you tie the string tightly so slugs cant squeeze underneath, you won’t have to worry about those slime-balls nibbling away at your carrots.
How To Grow More Fresh Carrots
The key to harvesting a regular supply of carrots from your bucket garden (or any garden) is to make regular sowings throughout your growing season. Beginning a few weeks before your last frost in the spring.
If you use 12 carrots a week, then sow seed in one new bucket every week. If you want to eat more carrots, simply sow extra buckets.
This is called succession planting, and by growing food this way, you will always have fresh carrots ready to pick.
Of course, the length of your growing season depends on your location and your first and last frost dates.
Find your U.S. growing zone with the USDA growing Zone Map
Find your U.K. growing zone here.
And then take a look at frostdate.com for the first and last frost date for your location.
Scroll down the page, select carrots, and you’ll get a list of planting dates like this which will help you plan how many carrots you can grow in a 5 gallon bucket.
In most areas, you should make your last sowings by late summer, so the carrots have a chance to grow before the days get shorter and plants don’t have enough light for rapid growth.
If you have enough buckets, make multiple sowings at the end of August. Once they’re mature, you can either harvest them and store them, or leave them in the buckets (with light watering) until you need to harvest them.
I leave my carrots in the ground as long as I can. To protect them from frost I cover them with straw or dried bracken fern.
And a touch of cold weather as fall turns to winter makes the carrots extra sweet!
What if you don’t have enough buckets for your bucket garden?
You can grow veggies in cardboard boxes wrapped with chicken wire for support when the cardboard begins to get soggy.
You can even grow in plastic bags, but be sure to poke some holes in the bottom first.
That’s a wrap!
Thanks for reading: How Many Carrots Can You Grow In A 5 Gallon Bucket?
Happy veg gardening. 🙂