Carrots are a really versatile vegetable and can be eaten raw, roasted, boiled, steamed and turned into soups or drinks. The fluffy foliage is edible too and has a carroty flavour. There’s more to carrots than the usual long orange fingers and varieties include spherical and even yellow and purple colours. They’re not a difficult crop to grow if the soil is suitable and although there are some pests and diseases they are fairly easy to combat.
One of the best things about growing your own carrots is that they taste so much better than shop-bought ones and you can enjoy a variety of different types, too. They can be kept in the ground and harvested when needed when they’re most full of flavour and goodness.
Carrots are well known for being orange-fleshed. As it happens, carrots aren’t naturally orange in colour; wild carrots are naturally red, purple, white or yellow! Dutch breeders developed orange carrots in the 17th century and they were so popular that they became the norm, and are still the most recognised today. Fortunately, the original purple carrots are still available to buy from seed so you can grow your own and experience how tasty and sweet they are.
There are different types of carrot available, each offering different qualities:
Early Summer Varieties
These can be sown from as early as February and take about 3 – 5 months to grow. They’re mostly eaten fresh but they can be stored in the ground. Early varieties are available in the following types;
• Round/square-rooted – suitable for difficult soils.
• Amsterdam - pointed and narrow, excellent raw.
• Nantes – Large and cylindrical.
Produce a later harvest than the early varieties and can store in the ground throughout winter until as late as March. Maincrop varieties are available in the following types:
• Chantenay – Medium-sized, reputation for good flavour.
• Berlicum – large, cylindrical, matures late.
• Autumn King – large, tapered shape and high yielding.
• Intermediate – long, large roots.
• Imperator – Thin roots with a very sweet flavour. Great for eating raw.
When to Sow
Early summer varieties: February – August
Maincrop varieties: April - June
Early summer varieties: June – November
Maincrop varieties: September - March
Soil Requirements for Carrots
Carrots need deep, fertile, free draining, sandy soil. Lots of organic matter or stones will have adverse effects so avoid ground that has previously manured. Instead prepare the soil in autumn and apply a general fertiliser a week or two before sowing. In general an open, sunny site is required but early varieties do well with some protection.
Cultivation of Carrots
Carrots don’t do well when transplanted so are best sown in situ. Temperatures should be above 5°C (41°F) but germinate faster in temperatures above 10°C (50°F). Use a cloche to warm up soil before hand. Sow seeds thinly from March, or more usually April, until June in dills 15cm (6in) apart and 1cm (0.5in) deep. Thin out during the evening to 5 to 8cm (2 to 3in) apart. Erect a 60cm (24in) fleece fence around your patch to protect crop from carrot root fly. It’s important to weed regularly when plants are young. Hand weed to avoid root damage from hoes. Once a canopy has been formed weeds should become suppressed. Keep soil moisture consistent as the roots could split if sporadically overwatered.
Harvesting can commence from June. Pull up small carrots first to let others mature, back filling holes left by the roots as you go. Maincrops can be pulled later, for storage carrots wait until October.
Carrots withstand light frost, but are damaged by heavy frost. They can be stored in the following ways:
• In the ground – This is the best method for retaining flavour, but is best in light, well drained soil. Allow the foliage to die back, or cut back foliage from early November if it hasn’t yet died back, and cover with black polythene to keep it dark and to keep the rain off. For additional protection you can include a layer of cardboard underneath the polythene too. These can be dug up and used when required.
• Indoors – Lift the carrots before the first heavy frost. Cut the foliage off and lay them in rows in cardboard or wood boxes, each layer separated by a layer of sand. Carrots can be pulled from the box when required
The old story that carrots help you see in the dark isn’t just an old wives tale, carrots are rich in beta carotene, a substance with is converted into vitamin A in the body and this is used by the retina to improve your night vision. Carrots also contain falcarinol which is a natural pesticide found in carrots. Recent studies suggest that eating this could help prevent some types of cancer. Its detoxifying properties on the liver make carrots good for the skin and other substances and vitamins in carrots can help reduce cholesterol and reduce the risk of strokes.
Pests and Diseases of Carrot - Carrot Root Fly, Green Top, Black Rot, Clayburn, Small Roots, Violet Root Rot, Sclerotinia Rot, Fanging, Motley Dwarf Virus, Carrot-Willow Aphid, Splitting, Swift Moth
Best Varieties of Carrots