How to grow Carrots
How to Grow Carrots
Growing carrots is relatively easy but they do need some attention to avoid carrot fly which is the main pest, and careful soil preparation.
The only way to prevent carrot fly is by a physical barrier, which means covering the crop with a mesh, as in image top left. When growing Carrots they benefit from careful soil preparation to prevent the carrots forking and the carrots being stunted or growing misshapen. This means the soil needs to be raked very fine to create a ideal growing medium. If you can be bothered you can sieve the soil to remove lumps and make it finer. A hand held rotary sieves are good for this and easy to use. If your soil is heavy you can mix in some sand to make it lighter and more Carrot friendly. In terms of growing vegetables, Carrots require a some attention, and can be tricky to germinate and so are designated amber wheelbarrow equating to medium difficulty. All the effort is worth while to enjoy the early crop of sweet tasting baby Carrots and Carrots store well at the end of the season. Supermarket Carrots are rather dull in comparison, home grown offers numerous varieties and colours.
If you want to grow small sweet carrots, pick the varieties described as quick-maturing 'earlies' as the name suggests they grow fast and are ready for eating earlier. Below are the various Carrot varieties with the award which is a good starting point.
Tips on How to grow Carrots
Carrot seed can a bit awkward to germinate so it is important always to use fresh seed. Carrot seed will not keep from year to year. If Carrot seed fails to germinate, (as can often happen,) there can be a host of reasons; too cool, too warm, too dry or too wet; it needs ideal conditions. If the Carrot seed fails sow again, and if needs be, again. Some years it seems to germinate is "just like that", another year it perversely refuses and more sowings are needed. The varying rates of germination are reflected in the EU regulations covering retailers of seeds, by which, at law carrot seed has to have a minimum only of 65% germination rate compared with say runner beans at 80%. It is definitely a case of sow again and if more than one failure from the same packet maybe another packet of seed. Carrot seed will not readily germinate at temperatures below 7.5C
Once the Carrots have germinated and started growing Carrots usually need thinning out as the seed is quite fine and this means they tend to grow too closely together, with not enough space between plants for them to develop. Thinning out means that you reduce the crop by ruthlessly pulling out some of the germinated seed to make more room for the remaining plants, which will grow better with more space. Thinning is important because if the seedlings are crowded they will not have enough room to grow need about 5cms minimum between seedlings. If time permits a feed every two weeks will help produce strong growth. Carrots especially dislike competition from weeds.
Best Carrots and Carrots for Containers
Helpfully, in 2010 the RHS undertook a trial to establish which varieties of Carrot are most suitable for containers and best early varieties and the results of their trial are: Marion F, Parmex (a very short variety,) Adelaide F which described as sweet flavoured, Parano, Nantes 1087 F, Mokum F, Napoli F, Primo F, Trevour F, and Yukon.
Carrots which have the RHS award of Garden Merit are: 'Resistafly' a Nantes type with some resistance to carrot fly; 'Eskimo' all rounder that is winter hardy particularly in well drained conditions; 'Deep Purple' unusual colour; 'Artemis' smooth skinned good as baby carrot.
There are also seeds sold which produce a mixed range of colours for Carrots sold as 'Rainbow' Mix which as the image shows produces multi coloured carrots. Most of the garden centres and on line web retailers have a wide range of carrots including the multi coloured variety. Originally carrots were purple and white, the orange carrot only made its appearance in the 1700.
There are 7 main types of carrots:
Nantes which can be earlies or main crop make cylindrical carrots and are widely grown commercially.
Amsterdam forcing more variable and mainly slender cylindrical roots
Chantenay conical roots and good for shallow soil and containers
Berlium similar but smaller
Autumn King large carrot but maybe not as tasty
Globe shall roots good for containers and grow bags
Imperator mainly grown in US.
If your growing conditions are not ideal more success can be obtained from growing a F1 hybrid, such as Primo and selecting carrots seed such as Primo which the RHS such as flyaway, deep purple Nepal, Extreamo (maincrop) Amsterdam forcing 3 - the packets will bear the logo.
Growing Carrots and Keeping Carrot fly at bay
Carrots do need some time and attention throughout the growing period and the main problem is carrot fly and prevention is by means of a physical barrier as illustrated in the image top left. Carrot fly will also attack related vegetables such as parsnip, parsley celery and celeriac. The process of growing, and especially thinning out the Carrots, releases the carrot smell, which in turn attracts carrot fly, a destructive pest.
It is a small black-bodied fly whose larvae feed on the roots of Carrots and eat the developing Carrots, causing them to rot. It is preventable, but it's a bit of a faff, in that the only sure fire way to prevent Carrot fly is to erect a physical barrier using very fine mesh as in the image on the left. You can use horticultural fleece or Enviromesh, both are suitable crop protection illustrated is Environmesh. You need to make a support around the area where the Carrots are growing, wrap the protection over the supports, and then pin it down securely. This does mean when weeding, thinning and harvesting, it is necessary to un pin and lift up the mesh which is a bit of a faff, but the barrier does work, keeps Carrot fly away and prevents an attack.
Other suggestions are to plant onions or garlic nearby as a companion with a different smell to mask the Carrots. In addition, there are varieties of Carrot sold which are resistant to Carrot fly, such as 'Flyway' and 'Resistafly' although they are not 100% resistant. Once established growing carrots is fairly trouble free when grown on prepared ground. A plus point is that Carrots need little watering as they are one of the more drought resistant vegetables.
It is possible to grow Carrots in containers if you are short of space or have very stoney ground. If you are growing Carrots in containers bear in mind Carrots like a good root run, i.e a good depth, so you need either a deep container, at least 25cms deep or grow a shallow short variety of Carrot. You may also wish to consider a shorter variety of Carrot if growing in heavy ground. Many veg can be grown easily in containers.
How to Harvest and Store Carrots
You can harvest Carrots as soon as they are big enough to eat which will be around June/July time, and they are good picked early as baby Carrots. Some varieties will crop earlier and its worth checking the seed packets. You can leave Carrots in the ground until Autumn, when they are best lifted and stored in the cool and dark, a garage is ideal. Like so many veg in storage it's really important to make sure they are completely dry before you put them into storage.