Carrots are one of the most productive crops that can be grown. If you need further motivation for growing this crop, then the fact that they need so little attention to grow into superb crops should be enough. Add to that, the fact that they can be harvested just about three months for the earlier sown seeds and even less than that for later sowings This is best achieved by successional sowing from late spring through to summer.
Carrots are available in two basic shapes, being the long tap root of general use, and the lesser grown stump rooted varieties.
We all know the carrot as the long orange coloured roots - or perhaps only know them out of a tin or freezer pack! White, yellow and even purple varieties of carrots are also available, and make a great colour addition if grated raw over a prepared salad!
The main requirement for growing good uniform carrots is the ownership of a plot with light-ish soil, which is preferably free of stones in quantity. They can be grown in a wide range of other soil types, but with a little added work required.
Other than that, and if space is at a premium, they can be grown in deep containers, or even troughs.
Carrots are best sown outdoors in their growing situation. The will not be suitable for starting in pots or seed trays and transplanting. They can be sown as early as February, and cropped as late as October or even left in the ground until November.
February sowing outdoors will mean covering with cloches or low polythene tunnels. A layer of horticultural fleece will also help. They can either be sown in rows or shallow beds. Seed needs barely covering and can be covered with a fine dusting of potting compost or soil. Sow in the rows for the main full size carrots, or scatter in beds for pulling as small young carrots as the need and desire arises. Baby carrots grown in the bed system are absolutely delicious, full of taste, and you simply pull the larger ones and leave the smaller ones to keep growing.
Light soil is essential, or you can modify heavier soil by planting a few seeds at 'stations' where you have made a hole and then filled with light soil based compost. This can be done by driving a pointed stake into the ground for at least 15cm. The other option on heavier soils, is to sow the stump rooted types. Other than shape, they are still carrots and well worth growing.
Stony soils and heavily-manured soils will mean that end up with fork-rooted carrots. (You get two for the price of one so to speak.) there’s nothing wrong with them, just slightly misshapen.
Once sown, carrots require very little by way of watering - even in long drought periods. This is where their long tap root comes into play, by reaching down into the soil moisture 20cm or more into the ground. If absolutely essential, you can give a heavy soaking every 10 days or so.
Harvest the carrots as and when you need them, choosing biggest if capable of pulling, otherwise carefully lift with fork.
If everything sounds too good and easy this far, carrots do have one nasty problem. Carrot Fly!
Carrot flies - or their larvae - can be troublesome. The flies are attracted be the smell of the foliage - especially if crushed or damaged by weeding.
They lay their eggs in the soil near the carrots, and the larvae burrow through the soil to the nearby carrots, and then to the inside of the carrot roots. Nobody wants carrots with maggots.
There are two very basic ways in which to prevent carrot fly damage. Prevention is essential, for once infested, they is difficult to get rid of.
Cover the seedling and growing carrots area with fine net or horticultural fleece. Peg it down around the edges to prevent the carrot flies getting near. Then of course you have to un-peg it to harvest, or any other reason you might need access.
This is quite simple and it works. Surround the carrot area with a barrier by way of polythene sheet, which must be 60cm high. The simple reason for this is that female carrot flies do not fly higher than 60cm. For cropping and weeding, you can normally leave the barrier in place and step over. It works but it needs some strong supporting canes in exposed areas.
It goes without saying that you should take care not to damage the foliage, and releasing the tempting aroma for all the local carrot flies to come flying.
Organic gardeners will have their own idea on companion planting to deter carrot flies. They do not need to be deterred, they need to be stopped! Stop them and enjoy nice fresh maggot-free crunchy new carrots.
Good varieties of Carrots....
Early Nantes is old favourite and is well tried. Flyaway F1 hybrid is carrot fly resistant.
‘ Autumn King’ takes some beating and stays crisp through to late autumn. ‘Resistafly’ as its name suggests is carrot fly resistant. Please not there is a difference between ‘fly resistant’ and ‘fly proof’.
‘Purple Haze’, ‘Harlequin’ and ‘White Satin’ gives clues to their colour.
For heavy ground, shallow window boxes or just a liking for round varieties, look no further than ‘Rhonda’ or’ Early French Frame’. ’Early French Frame’ is best started with protection, or grown in a cold.