Sweet, tasty and packed with vitamins, carrots are a traditional grow-your-own favourite. As well as the classic long orange roots, you can also grow small round carrots and even red, yellow or purple varieties.
Home-grown carrots may not always be as straight and uniform as supermarket carrots, but they taste so much better, so are well worth growing. If you make regular sowings, you can enjoy your own fresh, super-sweet carrots virtually throughout the year.
Carrots (Daucus carota) like a sun and light, well-drained soil. If your soil is stony, shallow or heavy clay, you may end up with stunted or forked carrots, so try short-rooted types or grow them in raised beds or containers. Carrots are drought resistant, so rarely need watering.
The main pest to beware of is carrot fly, whose larvae tunnel into the roots, but covering the crop with
Month by Month
There are numerous varieties to choose from, for roots of various sizes and shapes. There are even different colours, including purple, white and yellow.
Choose early varieties for sowing from early spring, then maincrop varieties for sowing from late spring through to mid-summer.
Short- or round-rooted varieties are best for growing in stony or heavy soil, to avoid forking, and are also ideal for containers. Long-rooted varieties are suitable for deep, sandy soil. A few varieties may offer some resistance to carrot fly.
For the most reliable varieties, look for those with an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM), which means they have performed well in RHS growing trials. See Recommended varieties, below.
What and where to buy
Carrot seeds are widely available from garden centres and other seed stockists. They are usually reasonably cheap, with plenty of seeds in a packet.
Early varieties can be sown in February or March under cloches or covered with fleece. The main outdoor sowing season is from April to early July. The seed packet will state whether it’s an early or maincrop variety.
Sow the seeds as thinly as possible, 1cm (½in) deep, in rows 15–30cm (6–12in) apart. Seeds can be slow to germinate, so be patient. Seedlings can be vulnerable to slugs and snails, so put protection in place.
Thin out the seedlings if necessary, aiming for plants 5–7.5cm (2–3in) apart.
Sowing small batches every three to four weeks will give you continuous harvests.
Sowing in a container
Carrots grow well in deep containers of multi-purpose compost, so are a great crop if you have limited space. They need full sun and regular watering. Round-rooted types are ideal, or you can sow long carrots but harvest when young, as baby veg.
Carrots are drought resistant, so seldom need watering. However, in long dry spells they will benefit from a soaking.
When growing in containers, which dry out more quickly, you’ll need to water regularly.
Fast-growing weeds can crowd out carrots, so remove them regularly – hoe between rows, but hand weed close to the plants to avoid damaging the top of the root.
Try to avoid touching the foliage, as the smell attracts carrot fly. Re-cover the crop with fleece as soon as you finish weeding.
Carrot fly is a widespread pest, with larvae tunnelling into the roots. So cover the crop with fleece or pest-proof mesh, or surround with a 60cm (2ft) high barrier, to keep these low-flying insects away.
Harvest as soon as they’re large enough to use – don’t aim for the biggest roots or you’ll sacrifice flavour. Spring sowings in particular are best when young, sweet and crunchy, ideal for eating raw.
You can harvest maincrop carrots right through into winter. Lift them carefully using a fork, especially if your soil is heavy.
Carrots should be eaten fresh if possible, but can be kept in the fridge for a week or so if necessary. They can also be frozen – blanch them in boiling water first to help preserve their colour and texture.
For winter use, carrots are best simply left in the ground and lifted as and when required. Cover plants in late autumn with straw or cardboard to protect from frost.
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