Bunch of carrots

Carrots are one of the most popular vegetable but they aren’t always easy to grow.  Your first hurdle is the dreaded carrot fly.  Its unusual to have to think of pests right from the moment you plant but its important when growing carrots.  But even once you have got over that hurdle you can still get a surprise at harvest time.  One of the main problems is that you can’t tell if carrots have grown well until the end of the season.  You pull them up, full of hopeful anticipation, only to discover a carrot that would look at home in a dolls house!

Obviously if your carrots aren’t right at harvest then there is nothing you can do this season except learn lessons for next year. 

How to solve Carrot Growing Problems

So if your carrots are full of holes then you have encountered the carrot fly.  Reading How to Protect Carrots from Carrot Fly will give you all the strategies you need to overcome this problem next time around. 

If your carrots have no holes but are on the tiny, branchy or hairy side (!) then your carrot has had problems forming roots. Read on to find out 6 reasons why your carrots may be on the small size

1) Choose the right variety of Carrots

    The first reason for tiny carrots is that you may have inadvertently planted a dwarf variety. Varieties such as Paris Market 5-Atlas give you tiny round carrot balls rather than the traditional long slender tap root you were expecting.  This is not an actual garden fail but it may seem so if you didn’t realise that’s what you planted.
    While we are on the subject of small carrots did you know that the baby carrots you buy are not the same as dwarf carrots?  They are either immature carrots, or here is the sneaky bit, pieces of larger carrots that are cut and shaped.  This was the brainchild of a California farmer who got tired of binning imperfect carrots and started cutting and peeling them into perfect mini carrots. Carrot farmers then got together to promote them as a healthy snack.

    Anyway, back to your full size carrots...

    2) Carrot seeds planted when it was too hot

      A bunch of Carrots with flames around them too hot to plant carrots

      Carrots germinate best when the temperature of the soil is between 13-24°C (55-75 F) If it is hotter then the seeds struggle to germinate in the dried out soil. Admittedly, not a problem too often in the UK (and certainly not this year) but worth knowing that it could be one of your carrot growing problems as summers start to get hotter. 

      Remedy: Mulch the bed, cover the seeds with grass clippings or an Easy Net Tunnel to provide shade and retain moisture.

      3) The wrong soil for carrots

      As we rarely have Spring temperatures in that range a more common reason for carrots not forming well is heavy soil. Heavy, clay soils mean that the plant has to put a lot of energy into pushing through the soil which can prevent good sized roots from forming or can mean that the carrots become twisted.  

      Remedy: Improve the soil structure with sand or well rotted compost before planting. Be aware that carrots do not like excess nitrogen so don’t use too much nutrient rich compost when adjusting your soil.  Alternatively, leave your soil as it is and grow your carrots in a lovely Carrot Planter where you don’t need to worry about removing stones or finessing soil structure.

      4) Too much Nitrogen

      This is the one that will really fool you. Many vegetables love nitrogen but not carrots.  Too much nitrogen will give you splendid, big green carrot tops that make you think your carrot crop is thriving.  However, beneath the soil the carrots will lack root development or get multiple or hairy roots.

      Remedy: Avoid using too much nutrient rich compost in your beds or using nitrogen rich fertilisers.  Growing carrots in a Raised Bed makes it easy to control the soil conditions too so is worth considering.  

      5) Too Crowded

      A deformed carrot caused by too many stones in the soil

      Carrots hate overcrowding. They need to be thinned fairly early on to allow each one to have the room it needs.

      Remedy: A week after sowing, thin the seedlings to 2 ½ -5cm (1-2”) apart. Thin the carrots to 7 ½ - 10cm (3-4”) apart again a few weeks later.

      6) Too dry

      Insufficient water causes shallow root development and stresses the plants. Carrots are 88% water so no water equals no carrots. 

      Remedy: Water regularly including watering deeply once a week in most soils. During hot periods or if you are growing on sandy soil then you may even need to water more frequently.  

      Whether you are growing carrots in pots, the ground or in raised beds taking these 6 requirements into account should lead you to a much healthier crop of carrots.  Best of luck! 

      Fun Carrot Fact: Cooked carrots are better for you than raw carrots
      Cooking carrots releases hidden pockets of beta-carotene. Eating carrots raw only gives you three percent of this substance, but when you heat them up they release closer to 40 percent.

      Sarah Talbot