Growing carrots

The Classic Carrot

Garden Life
Tips from Sarah the Gardener
There is more to the humble carrot than meets the eye. Being so inexpensive at the supermarket, it is tempting not to bother planting them and keeping that space for something more ‘interesting’. But if you grow carrots, you will find that they are so much sweeter and crisper and the convenience alone is worth the effort. It is said that carrots are the most popular vegetable after potatoes, and they undoubtedly will become even more popular at your place when you grow your own.

Not only are they popular but they are also very good for you. An average-sized carrot has 25 calories, has only 6 grams of carbohydrates and its superpower is its source of vitamin A. Just one carrot can provide 200% of your daily requirements! Carrots don’t actually have vitamin A but the beta-carotene they possess is converted by your body into vitamin A. Although vitamin A is important for your body it isn’t water soluble therefore eating too many carrots can result in too much vitamin A building up in your body. On top of that, eating too much beta – carotene from carrots can turn your skin orange, but you need to be eating more than 10 a day for an extended period!

If your mum ever told you to eat your carrots so you can see in the dark, she was almost right. There was a myth spread during World War II that this was the case, to put fear into the enemy, however studies have since shown that vitamin A can aid eye health. It won’t restore poor vision though. 

The carrot is a fascinating vegetable and its health benefits make it worthy of a spot in the garden and a regular spot in your five-a-day vegetable repertoire. When it comes to growing carrots, you have a few more choices than what you commonly find in the supermarket, as carrots come in more colours than just orange! They were originally domesticated in the Middle East in ancient times and eventually worked their way around the world. In the early days, they came in a multitude of colours from white and yellow through to reds and deep, dark purples.  It wasn’t until the 17th Century when the orange carrot became the popular choice, being bred by Dutch gardeners to honour House of Orange, the Dutch Royal Family. From this point forward, people’s perception of the carrot changed making orange the norm. Fortunately for us, coloured carrots are making a comeback and you can get seeds for the individual colours or get a mixed packet of seeds allowing you to grow a rainbow.

Colourful carots

Many people find it a bit of a struggle to grow carrots and to be honest, they aren’t the easiest. They are a little fussy when it comes to their preferred growing conditions. The first thing to consider is the soil, carrots don’t like rich soil. How you would normally prepare the soil by adding plenty of compost and well-rotted manure is best left out when preparing the ground for carrots. Too much organic material can cause the carrots to fork and twist as they grow.

Another one of their dislikes are sticks, stones, lumps and bumps. This can also cause them to fork and twist as they grow around the obstacles. They prefer a loose, fluffy and free draining soil to easily allow the roots to grow long and straight. To provide the best conditions, dig over the soil thoroughly to remove anything that will cause a hinderance to the carrots down to the depth you would like your carrots to grow. Generally, this is around a spade’s depth. If you don’t prepare your soil deep enough you may find you get much shorter carrots than expected. If you want to provide the very best for your carrots, you can sieve the soil in the carrot row, however this isn’t necessary.

As the soil is loose, free draining and free of organic material, this can cause problems with germination as the soil around the seed can dry out quickly which is detrimental to germination. To help retain that moisture you can place a plank of wood or a damp sack over the row to help keep things moist. You will need to check often and remove the plank or sack when you see signs of life so the seedlings can grow in the light.

It is a good idea to sow the seeds thickly, so the small seeds can collectively push through the soil. The seed leaves of the carrot look deceptively like grass and so it is best to avoid weeding until the true leaves come through and you know which ones belong to the carrots by their familiar fern-like leaves.

Since they were started out in a thick row, you will need to thin them out to grant the space the carrots need to grow properly. The first thinning should be done to remove the weakest seedlings leaving a spacing of about 2cm. The second thinning, performed about a month later, should leave a gap between each carrot of about 5cm. The ones left will be your crop, but you can eat the baby carrots you have just thinned. To harvest carrots properly, check them first by pulling back the soil around them to see if they look the right size and then give them a push before you pull them to help them out of the ground.

The main pests interested in your carrots will be slugs, snails and carrot flies. The carrot fly is drawn to the smell of carrots so interplant them with a fragrant crop like chives and limit your handling of the crop to avoid releasing aromas. It is said the carrot fly can’t fly up so a physical barrier around your row can keep them safe.

Carrots can be left in the ground until you need them and by choosing the right varieties, you can grow them all year round giving you a continual supply of fresh carrots.

Watering carrots