Carrots come in shapes and colours other than long and orange – look out for round carrots, as well as unusual colours such as red and yellow, there are even purple carrots.
Carrots can be grown in containers if you are short on space, or if your soil is heavy clay or very stony. Sow regularly for prolonged cropping.They freeze and store well too, but like most vegetables, carrots taste best freshly picked from the garden.
All carrots require an open, sunny site and fertile well-drained soil. If your soil is stony, shallow or heavy clay, you may end up with stunted or forked carrots, so you would be better to grow short-rooted types in containers.
Early cultivars (types of carrots – it will state on the seed packet whether it is an early or maincrop) can be sown in February or March under cloches or similar protection but the main sowing season is from April to early July.
Sow 1cm (½in) deep in rows 15cm-30cm (6-12in) apart. Sow thinly to avoid thinning out, or once the seedlings start coming up, thin to 5-7.5cm (2-3in) apart.
Carrots are best grown in the open ground, but you can try short-rooted types in containers or growing bags.
Drought resistant, carrots like hot weather, seldom needing water. If foliage starts wilting, give a thorough soaking of water every 10-14 days.
Keep weeds down between rows by hand weeding – if you allow weeds to grow they may end up crowding out the carrots.
Be careful when weeding or thinning that you don’t crush the foliage, as the smell attracts carrot fly. Fleece covering or barriers prevent these pests egg laying, especially early in the season.
Troubleshooting Growing Problems
Forked carrots: When you pull up your carrots, the roots are not straight, but may have one or two forks.
Remedy: This is a physiological problem, caused by the environment, not a pest or disease. It is usually caused by stony soil (roots hit a stone, and fork to go around it), or if carrots are sown too close together. The taste is normally not affected.
Carrot fly: Carrot fly is a small black-bodied fly whose larvae feed on the roots of carrots. The larvae tunnel into the developing carrots causing them to rot.
Remedy: Once you have an attack of carrot fly, there is nothing you can do to get rid of this pest. Prevention is the best cure, and you should sow thinly and avoid crushing the foliage as you thin out seedlings or hand weed. You can surround your carrots with 60cm (2ft) high barriers made of clear polythene which will exclude the low-flying female flies, or cover the plants with horticultural fleece, such as Enviromesh.
Aphids: Look for colonies of greenfly on the soft shoot tips of plants or on leaves. They suck sap and excrete sticky honeydew, encouraging the growth of black sooty moulds.
Remedy: Use your finger and thumb to squash aphid colonies or use biological control in the greenhouse.
Cabbages are harvested by cutting through the stem just above ground level with a sharp knife. Cut a 1cm (½in) deep cross in the stump of spring and summer cabbages and you’ll be rewarded with a second crop of much smaller cabbages.
Carrots are ready for harvesting about 12-16 weeks after sowing. Harvest carrots as soon as they are large enough to use; don’t aim for the largest roots or you’ll sacrifice flavour. Lift carefully using a fork if the soil is heavy.