Fresh carrots really are the best and nothing you can buy at a shop or even a farmer's market will come anywhere near the taste you'll get eating a just-pulled carrot from your own garden. They are not difficult to grow if you follow these simple steps.
How to Grow Carrots
Where to sow
Carrots prefer a sunny spot with light, fertile soil. They are not keep in heavy clay soil. They also detest recently manured soil which causes the roots to split into several thin and twisted roots (this is called bifurcation!) so grow them in a plot that was manured a year ago and has had other plants growing there in the intervening time. Stony soil is not good either as this also causes the roots to split.
If you don't have suitable soil you can always grow then in large pots - choose a short or round variety and make sure you water them well in dry weather.
A lot of carrots are grown commercially on the sandy soils near the coast of Normandy and Brittany and we even have a Carrot Festival in August to celebrate them!
When to sow
In mild areas carrots can be sown from March but if your soil is wet and damp, delay sowing until it has dried out and warmed up. You can sow a few seeds every couple of weeks to give you carrots all through the summer, autumn and (in mild areas) on through the winter. Check the seed packets for sowing times as these vary with different varieties. Always use fresh seed, not an open packet saved from last year as this will have a much lower germination rate. Unopened packets are good for several year and you can check their viability by their smell. Good seeds will have a pungent whiff when you first open the packet.
How to sow
Make a very shallow trench no more than a few millimetres deep and sow the seeds thinly along it before covering with a thin layer of fine soil. If the soil is dry when sowing water the trench first. Try not to sow on a windy day or the seeds will blow all over the place!
ThinningYou will invariably have sown the seeds too thickly (they are very small) so as they grow on, thin them by pulling out those that are growing too close. You can do this over a period of time and eat any thinnings that are big enough.
You'll need to keep your carrot patch weed free so hoe between the rows and hand pull any weeds between your carrots
In dry spells give the carrots a good soaking every few days - as the roots are long only giving a little water will not allow the water to get down deep where it is actually needed.
Start by eating the thinnings and then gradually pull the larger carrots as needed leaving some to grow on for winter storage/freezing if you have an excess. If possible eat them straight away, though, as they will taste the best this way.
As with any vegetable there are beasties out there who want to eat them before you. With carrots the worst pest is the Carrot Root Fly. The female lays her eggs at the top of the carrot and when the larvae hatch they burrow into the root and eat it. You can protect your carrots in several ways:
- As the carrot root fly adults only fly near the ground surround your carrot patch with a fence of plastic or horticultural fleece, approx 60cm tall
- The adults do not fly later in the season so delay sowing until June (this is what I do) and/or harvest before late August when the flies are again on the wing.
- If you sow earlier, cover the young carrots with fleece.
- Sow seeds very thinly so you do not have to thin them - the adults can smell the carrots you pull up. If you do need to thin do so in the evening when the flies are not on the wing. The same goes for weeding.
- Sow more resistant varieties (this will be indicated on the seed packet)
- Use a natural pest - you can buy predatory nematodes which kill carrot root fly.
- The carrot flies use smell to locate your carrot crop so grow onions, leeks or garlic around your carrots as their smell confuses the flies.
One other "pest" you may see if you are lucky is the caterpillar of the Swallowtail butterfly that feeds on carrot leaves. Bearing in mind this is a rare butterfly and a very beautiful one at that you really do need to leave the caterpillars and accept that your carrots have helped in the conservation of a rare beauty.
Are all carrots orange?
No!! Ask anyone what colour carrots are and they will invariably say orange. However carrots were originally purple and there are varieties available that are still this colour as well as red, white and yellow. The purple ones retain their colour when cooked and make a fabulous addition to a Halloween stew, looking not unlike fingers!
Have you grown carrots and of so have you any tips to add - or ask away of you have any carrot growing questions? They really are a great vegetable to grown and their taste cannot be beaten. Do you also have any favourite carrot recipes you would like to share?
Linking up with the lovely Annie at Fable and Folk and her How Does Your Garden Grow linky.