Carrots are a national favourite vegetable that are easy to grow, used in a variety of dishes, both hot and cold. They are rich in vitamin A, calcium and a good source of fibre.
By growing your own veg, you can cut down your food miles and live more sustainably. Here’s how to grow carrots for yourself!
Interesting carrot facts!
Carrots were the first vegetable to be canned commercially.
While typically we think of carrots as orange veg, different varieties vary in colour. Some are white, others develop a purple hue.
Carrots are rich in sugar, and a great source of vitamins and carotene.
The Irish called carrots “underground honey,” due to this root vegetable’s sweetness.
The secret to growing good carrots lies in the soil! Roots should be free to grow without obstruction. If not, you will probably end up with stunted and misshapen crops.
Thankfully, improving your soil is possible. And while you might not grow perfectly formed carrots, they’ll taste far better than the supermarket variety!
Firstly, till down about 30 cm into the soil. Ensure there are no rocks, stones, or soil clumps as these will impact your carrots’ growth and shape.
If your soil is heavy clay or too rocky, then you might have little option but to grow carrots in a raised bed. Ideally, you would have at 30 cm deep of sandy soil.
Rather than using nitrogen-rich manure or fertilizer, which can cause carrots to fork and grow side roots, save coffee grounds and spread them over the soil.
Before we look at how to grow carrots, it’s worth exploring some of the varieties available.
Early varieties take around 12 weeks to mature and include Nantes 2, Tendersnax and Mokum.
Maincrop varieties are ready in around 16 weeks and include Red Samurai, Autumn King 2, and Bangor.
A few varieties grow well in containers and these include Caracas and Chantenay Red Cored 3 – Supreme.
If you’re interested in growing a more colourful variety, then try either Sweet Imperator Mix, Cosmic Purple or Purple Sun.
In terms of the ideal conditions, carrots prefer full sunlight. Although they can tolerate partial shade. Carrots need loose, sandy soil so that the roots can burrow down. Try to distribute seeds evenly, so they have plenty of room to grow.
Ideally, sow seeds about 4 weeks before the last spring frost date. Sow in rows with about 8 cm between seeds and plant rows around 30 cm apart. Finally, cover with a layer of fine compost.
Water frequently to keep the soil moist and to prevent a hard crust from forming. Don’t let the soil become wet.
As carrots can be slow to germinate, they can take a few weeks for leaves to appear. Don’t panic if you can’t see any growth straight away!
How to nurture carrots
As with all vegetables and plants, remove weeds often but do be careful not to disturb your carrots’ roots. Continue to water at least 7 cm per week and double this as roots mature.
You’ll also need mulch often as this helps carrots to retain moisture, speed up germination and ensures the sun doesn’t directly hit the roots.
After about 5 weeks of sowing, fertilize with a low-nitrogen but high-potassium and high-phosphate fertilizer. Be aware that adding a large amount of nitrogen to the soil aids foliage growth but does little for the roots.
Smaller carrots generally taste better but you can harvest whenever you feel they’ve reached the desired size or maturity. Generally, you can begin to harvest when they are finger size.
To check the size of your carrots, gently remove some soil from the top of the root and check the size of the root. To harvest, gently lift the carrot from the soil.
The taste improves after a few frosts. This is because a frost encourages the build-up of sugars in its root. However, after the first hard frost of autumn, you should cover carrot tops with a thick layer of shredded leaves as this will preserve them for harvesting later.
If you’re growing carrots in the spring to early summer, you’ll want to harvest in the morning before daily temperatures rise. The heat can cause carrot roots to grow fibrous.
Unlike some vegetables which start to rot if left in the ground too long, carrots are biennial. So don’t worry. Leave them in the ground and they will flower then produce seeds in time for next year.
How to store fresh carrots
To correctly store freshly harvested carrots, cut off about 4 cm from the top. Scrub off any dirt under cold running water and air-dry. Then seal in airtight plastic bags and store in the fridge. They’ll stay fresh for about 2 to 4 weeks.
Don’t directly put fresh carrots in the fridge as they’ll go limp within a few hours. Also, you can store carrots in tubs of moist sandy or dry sawdust in a cool, dry area. Stored this way, they’ll last between 2 and 4 months.
If you end up with a glut, you can freeze or pickle the excess harvest.
Common pests and problems
As with growing any plant, part of the challenge is keeping pests and other common problems at bay.
Common in heavy or rocky soil, or when seeds are sown too close together. Thankfully, forked roots is an aesthetic issue which shouldn’t affect the taste.
As a common pest, carrot fly can spoil a whole crop. It’s larvae burrow into the roots, leaving them susceptible to rot. Sadly, if your crop becomes infested, there’s nothing you can do to reverse the damage. So you’ll need to be vigilant from the start.
You can cover the seeds in fine netting, which will also ward off slugs, aphids and other garden pests. Thinning out weaker plants in the evenings can help to lessen the attraction to female flies.
If your crop does get infested, then rotate your carrots to a new location. Carrot fly can remain in the soil and rear their ugly heads the following spring.
That’s how to grow carrots!
Carrots are an easy to grow veg which is fantastic in salads, cakes and numerous meals. As you now know how to grow carrots, it’s worth giving it a go! Also consider growing sweetcorn as well!