You may be able to buy them from greengrocers and supermarkets at low prices throughout the year but, if you want carrots with plenty of flavour, it’s worth growing your own. Apart from the classic-shaped orange root, there’s a wide selection of carrot varieties, available in an array of unexpected colours.
Growing carrots from seed
Sowing and planting
There are generally two types of carrot to choose from – early varieties, which are sown in spring and ready to pick about 10 weeks later, and late varieties, which can be sown from the end of spring and are ready to lift in about 14-16 weeks.
The main sowing season is late March to June, but earlier and later sowings are worth it if you can protect them fleece or a cloche.
Good soil preparation is essential. Fork it thoroughly to break up lumps and remove as many stones as possible. Carrots prefer a light, well-drained but moisture-retentive soil, so it’s also worth adding some well-rotted organic matter.
For best results, sow carrots directly into the ground. Make a seed drill (shallow trench) about 1cm deep using the edge of a hoe or trowel. Sow the seeds thinly along the bottom of the drill about 5-8cm apart. Cover them with soil, and water well using a watering can with a rose attached. You can also grow carrots in containers.
To extend your cropping period, sow seeds successionally at two-week intervals. You can also sow a selection of varieties that will crop at different times over the season.
Tending the crop
Carrots don’t require too much care. Aim to keep the soil around them weed free, although once the carrots start to grow strongly their foliage will shade out most weeds. Water occasionally.
Thinning out seedlings not only wastes time, it can also attract destructive carrot root fly. These pests detect the smell of crushed foliage when you pull the carrots up. So aim to sow your carrot seeds thinly to avoid having to handle the young plants.
Lift carrots when the soil is moist, or water beforehand, to prevent them breaking off when you pull them. Water the soil again to settle it around the remaining roots.
Carrots keep for months in dry sand. First, spread a layer of sand in a box, then put in your carrots making sure they don’t touch. Cover with another layer of sand and store in a cool, dry place.
Preparation and uses
Carrots are delicious steamed, boiled or roasted, and can be grated fresh in salads.
Carrot fly is the most common and serious problem. The fly’s maggots eat tunnels through the carrots, ruining the crop. Choose resistant varieties such as ‘Resistafly’, ‘Flyaway’ or ‘Syrtan’. Alternatively, place a 45cm-high fine-mesh barrier around crops or cover with fleece or a similar material. Alternating a row of carrots with a row of companion plants like onions or garlic may help to mask their smell.
Growing carrots in pots
If space or soil type is a problem, you can still produce an excellent crop from seed sown in a pot that’s at least 30-45cm deep. Fill with sifted garden soil or compost such as John Innes No.2.
Carrot varieties to try
‘Amsterdam Forcing 3’ – produces short, cylindrical roots
- ‘Autumn King 2’ – classic orange, late-maturing variety
- ‘Nantes’ – sweet, perfect for slicing
- ‘Parmex’ – a round-rooted carrot, perfect for growing in pots
- ‘Purple Haze’ – dark purple skin surrounds the orange flesh
- ‘Resistafly’ – resistant to carrot fly