Crunchy, flavoursome and packed with vitamins, carrots are great for small and big outdoor spaces.
“Once you’ve done the initial care, carrots are fairly self sufficient, which is quite nice,” says Lucy Hutchings of She Grows Veg. “You've got to give them the attention at the beginning, but after that, they are relatively low maintenance.”
As carrots are cold tolerant they can be sown from February all the way through to July, which gives you a nice long period to harvest them.
Want to give growing this root veg a go? Then keep reading…
How to grow carrots: the best varieties
There’s lots of different varieties of carrots, so choosing what type you’d like to grow really comes down to what colour you’d like them to be and where you’ll be growing them.
Lucy recommends definitely trying to grow a purple, white or yellow variety.
“Carrots are not naturally orange, when they started out they were purple, white, or yellow. Orange carrots were bred in Holland in tribute to William of Orange, hundreds of years ago, for everything that he’d done and it just went mad, to the point where now everyone thinks of carrots as orange, but they weren't originally.
“So all those kind of novelty carrots that you see that are white, purple or the yellow are actually what a carrot used to look like. So, if you're going to grow a carrot, I would definitely try and experiment with at least one heirloom variety.”
If you’re after your classic orange carrot though, Lucy suggests a variety called Nantes 5.
“This is a good basic all round carrot that doesn't grow too big and is quite quick to crop. It’s your simple, straight up classic carrot.”
Don’t have a big garden? Don’t panic! Carrots grow up and down, not out, so they’re brilliant in containers.
“If you haven't got a deep container there’s a variety called Paris Market Atlas and that grows as a ball as opposed to a long root, so it doesn’t go down very deep,” says Lucy.
Where to grow carrots
Whereas a lot of other vegetables are sown indoors and then replanted outside later on, carrots are cold tolerant so they can be planted straight from seed outdoors. In fact, it’s actually better not to sow them indoors, according to Lucy.
“Carrots are a root and their little tiny root systems on the seedlings are really important,” she says. “You don't want to damage them, so it’s actually better not to transplant them and better just to sow the seed exactly where you want to grow the carrot.”
Like all plants, carrots do like a bit of sun, so make sure you plant them somewhere that’s going to get a little bit of sunlight, but don’t get too hung up on this as remember they are cold tolerant.
How to grow carrots: care advice
A fertile, well-drained soil is what a carrot craves, so avoid any heavy soils containing chunks or stones.
“The roots want to be able to push down in a straight line through the soil, so if you have a really stoney or heavy soil that bakes really hard in the sun, you're going to end up with mutant carrots, because they’ll branch off in every direction to try and get round the lumps and stones,” says Lucy.
When it comes to watering and feeding, you’ll be pleased to hear carrots really don’t need much attention.
“They're quite drought tolerant, so compared to other things that you grow in your garden, they don't need nearly as much watering. Once a week in dry weather should be fine,” says Lucy.
“They don't particularly need food either, as long as the soil that they've been planted in is relatively fertile and has had some compost or something like that added to it, they’ll be fine.”
“The best way to plant carrots is by ‘succession sowing’, where you sow a few then wait till they appear, then sow another few and then wait for the next lot to appear and so on. That way you have a decent amount of carrots to eat over a long period of time, rather than 50 all at once!”
This is a little black fly that (as you probably guessed) only attacks carrots and once you have it, sadly, you can’t get rid of it.
“They lay their eggs just on the surface of the soil by the carrot and then maggots hatch and burrow into the carrot. You won't have a clue that your carrots have got it until you come to harvest it and see that they've got little tunnels going all the way through them and little maggots living in them,” says Lucy.
Luckily, there are two ways you can prevent this that Lucy’s suggested.
“The first thing is you can net your carrots if you're growing them on the ground and enviromesh is a really good one, because it's a really fine net and even small flys can't get through it.
“The other thing is carrot fly’s aren’t good at flying, they can't actually fly higher than about 70 centimetres off the ground, so if you plant in a raised container they basically won’t be able to reach it.”
How to harvest carrots
You can expect to harvest your crop of carrots three months after you’ve planted them.
As they’re grown in open soil, it should be loose enough for you to grab your carrot, give it a gentle wiggle and just pull it out. But if your soil is a little heavier use a garden fork.
“Put the fork in, but not right on top of the carrot because otherwise you’ll drive the fork straight through it, just pop it down next to it and then lift them from beneath,” says Lucy.
Carrots can accompany many delicious dishes, but to avoid waste, Lucy recommends using the carrot tops too.
“People don't realise that the tops are actually edible as well. So, if you're making a a stock of any kind, I’ll always add the tops of the carrot into the stock as it just adds a really lovely earthy flavour.”
Read Lucy Hutchings' gardening blog, She Grows Veg.
Lucy's book Get Up and Grow is out on 29 April published by Hardie Grant Books.
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