There are few vegetables that taste better when they are home grown than carrots. Freshly pulled, sweet and full of favour compared to what can be bland and watery 'shop bought' versions. You don't need to stick to traditional orange either. There are purple, yellow and white varieties to try and many shapes and sizes as well.
Where to grow carrots
Although they will grow in heavy clay, carrots do best on light sand soils where the drainage is good and root growth is not restricted. The soil should be free of stones and not too rich - both will cause the carrot to 'fork' so avoid manuring ground you plan to sow carrots in next season.
As with many crops, an open sunny site will suit carrots best. Carrots also grow well in containers and Haxnicks do a specific Carrot Patio Planter. The planter means that anyone can grow carrots even if they don't have a garden. Plus no digging is needed which is a bonus, simply fill it with compost before planting your seeds.
Sow thinly outside from early spring or under cloches from late winter - Easy Tunnel would be ideal to keep them warm. Plant around 1cm deep with 15-20cm between the rows. If you make a new sowing every few weeks through to early summer you'll be well supplied throughout the year.
In summer, begin sowing seeds for autumn and winter carrots. Its best to do this at the latest 10 to 12 weeks before your average first frost date.
If your soil is very heavy you may like to dig deep along the trench and loosen the soil with a mix of compost and some grit and then sow on top of this.
Thin the seedlings to around 5 cm apart. Do this on a still evening to avoid attracting carrot flies and bury the thinnings deep in the compost heap to hide the smell.
Another way to reduce the chance of carrot fly is to erect a fine-mesh barrier at the time of sowing – at least 70cm high. Check out our Micromesh Pest & Wind Barrier which will work for containers and open ground. Or a Micromesh Tunnel - with 0.6mm netting will also keep the Carrot Fly from getting to your precious crop.
Weed the crop regularly making sure not to disturb the roots too much. A good mulch will help to retain moisture and keep the weeds at bay - keep the seedlings well watered in dry weather.
Harvesting and storage
Start to harvest from late Spring onwards - usually 7 - 8 weeks after sowing. Lift carefully with a fork rather than pulling, especially when the soil is dry.
Maincrop carrots can be left in the ground and harvested as required. Later in the year you may need to cover with straw of fleece as the temperature drops.
Alternatively you can lift your crop in mid Autumn and store in a box of sand or dry potting compost. Trim the foliage to 1cm and make sure the carrots are not touching. Stored in this way they should last throughout the winter.
Pests and diseases
The main pest is Carrot Root Fly which lays it's eggs on the plant and can destroy the whole crop.
There are several ways to deter the fly:
- A later sowing in early summer will avoid the main egg laying periods in late Spring and early Autumn
- Lift early summer crops before the risk of infestation
- Use a micromesh barrier around the crop - the carrot fly stays close to the ground and so will not approach the plants from above
- Companion planting of strong smelling crops such as onion will mask the carrot smell which attracts the fly
For more information on carrot flies and tips on how to get a successful crop see our Carrot Fly Blog