Gardening is a great form of exercise. Not only will you stretch and use various muscle groups, your hard efforts will produce a lot of healthy produce.

“Don’t wait for a New Year’s resolution,” says LSU AgCenter vegetable specialist Kiki Fontenot. “Get ahead of the holidays and start a fall garden.”

Carrots are a “must-have” vegetable to include, she says. This small, slender root packs a healthy punch of vitamins A, K, C, B1, B2, B3 and E and is super easy to grow. You can plant seeds now until mid-October, and harvest occurs roughly 60 to 80 days after planting.

To grow carrots, start with a smooth seedbed and fresh seeds from a local hardware store or plant nursery.

“Till the soil to a depth of at least 6 inches,” Fontenot says. “The looser the soil, the longer the carrot. Use a hard rake to smooth out large clumps.”

Scatter seeds on top of the soil and gently water them in using a water breaker or spray nozzle on the end of a hose. Don’t bury the seeds, Fontenot says, because many carrot varieties require sunlight for germination. And the spray nozzle is important to use so seeds aren’t blasted out of the planting space.

As the carrots begin to germinate — give them at least seven days — thin them to 1 to 2 inches between plants.

When the plants reach about 4 inches tall, apply liquid fertilizer. Read the directions on the label to apply the correct rate of fertilizer. A general rule of thumb is to mix 1 to 2 tablespoons of a 15 percent nitrogen fertilizer in a gallon of water. Nitrogen is the first number in the three digit series on a fertilizer container, and 15 percent nitrogen is a common formulation of most liquid fertilizers.

Don’t fertilize the foliage, Fontenot says. Fertilize the soil by applying the solution to the side of the plants.

You can harvest carrots when you see the top portion of the root emerge from the soil. The foliage will be about 12 inches tall.

“Haven’t had luck with carrots in the past?” Fontenot asks. “They were probably planted too deep or in clay soils. Try again in a container or raised bed, and you’re sure to produce long, slender, tasty carrots.”

Got a gardening question? Write to GardenNews@agcenter.lsu.edu.