Growing carrots is a very simple and straightforward process.
Once planted, these are vegetables that simply like to be left alone to get on with the job of growing without any help or intervention from you!
Like potatoes, you get earlies and main crops. You can also get short-root or long-root varieties. Earlies tend to be short root types. Carrots are pretty tough plants and can be sown as early as February - although they may need some protection from the heaviest frosts with fleece.
Although an easy-going, non fussy plant, carrots do insist on one thing though - a good quality, stone and lump-free soil to grow in.
Stones & lumps in the soil will hamper their growth or cause distortions in their shape - which can make them less able to be stored in the winter. This requirement makes carrot growing an ideal candidate for container gardening, where you can exercise full control over the quality of the soil. Using the Square Foot Gardening method is also perfect, and the Mel's mix soil formula is an ideal medium to grow them in.
It is important not to make the soil too rich as the seeds will not like it. They also do not require feeding during their growing cycle. If you don't have good soil, then focus mainly on the long root main crop varieties as they are better equipped to handle poorer growing conditions. Main crops are also best for over-winter storage.
Sowing & Germination
Earlies enjoy the sunshine, but main crop varieties prefer partial shade - especially if it is a hot summer, so bear this in mind when choosing a growing spot. Sow directly where the carrots will be grown (do not transplant).
In an ideal situation, for early varieties, Sow 1-2 seeds per hole, 2-3 inches apart in drills that are about half an inch deep. If you have trouble sowing them, try mixing the seeds with a cup full of sharp sand and sow the sand and seeds together over the intended growing area and worry about thinning later. The sand will also help with the drainage. Sow main crop seeds a little deeper (1inch) in the summer to keep the seeds cooler.
Carrots tend to germinate quite slowly, but will usually start to show after about 2-3 weeks.
To avoid a glut, do not be tempted to sow all your seeds at one. Divide your growing area up and sow a small number of seeds once every 3-4 weeks to ensure you have a continuous supply.
Important Note: Be sure to see the notes on pests below.
Once your seedlings have reached about an inch tall, thin them by snipping away the weaker seedlings so a single seedling remains in each space 2-3 inches apart. Note: Early varieties need less room than main crops, which tend to grow larger.
From here on, the growing carrots do not require any maintenance and only need to be kept moist. Do not let them dry out - doing so will cause the roots to become woody and coarse.
Carrots do not need to be fed, in fact if you do feed them, it will have a counter-productive effect. You will get plenty of lush green foliage growth, but it will be at the expense of the root size.
It takes about 3 months from sowing to harvesting of your early crop. Main crop varieties take about 4 months.
There is wide scope for the actual time you lift the growing carrots from the ground but you can start pulling them up from June onwards as soon as they look large enough to eat. The younger, smaller roots tend to be sweeter in taste, but the larger older roots will give you more quantity, and are still perfectly tasty.
Make sure you have harvested them by the time the foliage starts to wilt and turn yellow. Make sure all of your carrots are out of the ground by October.
A good thing about growing carrots is their storage qualities. Correctly stored they will see you through the winter.
Be selective about the carrots you choose to store. Only select the best, unblemished roots. Cut off their foliage and sandwich them in strong cardboard or plastic boxes between layers of sand. Make sure the roots are not touching each other. Place the boxes in a dark cool place that will not be affected by frost. Be sure to check them regularly and remove any that appear to be going rotten or they will contaminate their neighbours.
When thinning, and you cut the stem of the weaker seedlings, the cut stem will produce a scent that could attract carrot flies - so thin in the evening when they are not around and water them immediately afterwards.
You can also grow your carrots in amongst onions in an alternating arrangement. This confuses both the onion and carrot flies which rely on scent as a means of navigation.
Avoid crushing the foliage of both carrot and onion plants as this is what attracts the flies.
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