The humble carrot is one of our most popular garden
and also one of the oldest known to man. Originally carrots were grown in a range of differing colours, including white, purple, red, yellow, green and black. The Dutch cultivated the orange version in the 17th century, to celebrate the House of Orange, which has remained popular since then. Although, if you look through the seed catalogues you can still find alternative colours to grow.
Soil Type: The soil should be deep, well drained, fertile and free of stones.
Conditions: Full sun. Prefers a pH between 6.5 to 7.5.
Type: Hardy Annual, Root Vegetable.
Hardiness: Hardy in most regions of the UK.
Early varieties are vigorous growers, designed to mature within 8-12 weeks. Whereas main crop varieties take 16 weeks or more to mature. Main crops can be eaten as soon as they reach maturity or they can be stored for use over winter.
Follow standard crop rotation rules, by not growing in an area of ground that has been used for carrots in the past three years.
Carrots need a deep rich, light sandy loam, with plenty of organic matter incorporated. Avoid cold, heavy, or stony soils, which can cause the roots to fork or become misshapen.
If you have heavy clay, improve it with a liberal application of horticultural sand, leaf-mould, garden compost or used potting compost. You may also find it easier to grow shorter rounder varieties under these conditions. Alternatively, create a 1ft (30cm) or higher raised bed, filled with light sandy soil. Carrots are well suited for growing in vegetable trugs or deep containers.
Till the soil well and rake in a general purpose fertilizer a few weeks before sowing.
Break the soil up well and rake into a fine tilth before sowing. Carrots dislike disturbance so are best sown direct.
Early sowings can be made in a warm, well tilled bed at the end of February, and protected under cloches or a cold frame. Main sowings can be made in succession (every few weeks) from March to July. In warmer regions you can also make a small sowing of an autumn or early variety around the end of June to August. This should generate a crop of small roots over-winter, ready for a early harvest next year.
Sow in straight rows (drills), about 1/2in (1.5cm) deep. Space rows 1 to 2ft (30 to 60cm) apart. Thin to about 2-4in (5-10cm) between seedlings, once true leaves appear. Carrot fly are drawn by the smell of the bruised leaves, so dispose of thinnings well away from the sowing site. After a further six weeks thin again. This time the thinnings should be large enough to make a tender addition to a salad or cooked as baby carrots.
The area sown method can be used an alternative to traditional drills. This involves scattering the seed thinly over the surface and dusting with sand to hold the seeds in place. Again, thin to about 2-4in (5-10cm) apart once the true leaves appear. The area sown method is ideal for crops grown in containers. It also requires less weeding, as the dense foliage will eventually shade out most weeds.
Keep watered and hand weed regularly while the crop is young. Once established, carrots won't need as much water as other crops, so only water during dry spells. Do not overfeed them or they will become over leafy.
Hoeing is not recommended for area sown crops or narrow rows. Hand-weeding is preferred to prevent root damage.
The main pest is carrot root fly. These flies lay eggs on the soil and the larvae tunnel into the tops of the roots, causing them to rot.
To prevent attacks you can cover the crop with fine horticultural mesh or raise a 2ft high vertical mesh barrier around the crop, supported with canes. Growing carrots in raised tubs or containers will also help deter these pests, as they are low flying. Some gardeners like to grow onions between rows to help disguise the scent.
There are a number of fly resistant varieties (such as 'Flyaway' and 'Resistafly') that can be tried if carrot fly becomes serious problem on your plot.
Harvest early varieties for the table as soon as
they are large enough but the main crop for storing
should not be lifted until the end of October. Use
a fork to gently loosen the roots and lift carefully
so as not to damage them. Keep the leaves attached
until ready for eating or storage.
To Store: Remove the leaves and green stems, then clean the roots and store in damp sand, in a frost-free storage area. Any damaged carrots are best frozen, as they are unlikely to store well.
It is not a good idea to leave carrots in the ground once they fully mature as this can lead to root splitting and invites further damage from slugs and rodents.
Cut away the leaves and green stems and wash roots thoroughly. Peel or scrape, then cut into rounds, quarters or battens (as preferred). Blanch (boil for 3 to 5 minutes) and freeze in meal size portions.
Peeling young carrots is not normally necessary as the skins are thin. Simply scrub clean and remove the leaves. Older carrots can be peeled if required. Cut larger carrots into quarters, rings, cubes or batons and place in lightly salted water (just enough to cover them) and boil for 10-20 minutes, until tender.
Carrots are a good source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B6, thiamine, folic acid, and magnesium.
Carrots are available in various colours, shapes and sizes, including: short-rooted (stumpy), short round rooted, intermediate-rooted and long-rooted. Average height to 12in (30cm), spread to 6in (15cm).
Carrot 'Adelaide' (F1 Hybrid) is an early, quick maturing variety. Ideal for growing under cold frames and cloches. These crunchy delicious sweet roots are ready for harvesting in as little as 9 weeks. Available from Thompson & Morgan
Carrot 'Amsterdam Forcing' is a fast maturing variety, perfect for early crops under cold frames or cloches. Small, deep orange-red tubular roots with a sweet flavour. Heavy yielding. Ideal for succession sowing throughout spring and early summer. Available from Van Meuwen
Carrot 'Autumn King' is a good all round variety. Long, generous cylindrical roots with excellent flavour. Available from Van Meuwen
Carrot 'Bangor' (F1 Hybrid) provides a heavy yield of high quality, large cylindrical roots. With good core colour and excellent flavour. Prized as a good maincrop variety, that is ideal for storing. Resistant to greening and cracking. Available from Thompson & Morgan
Carrot 'Caracas' has short conical roots, ideal for growing on heavier soils or in containers. Virtually coreless. The roots are highly flavoursome and can be eaten fresh or stored for later in the year. Available from Thompson & Morgan
Carrot 'Chantenay Red Cored 3 - Supreme' is a good, blunt ended, variety with red fleshed roots and a bright orange skin. Perfect for early and successional sowings. Available from Van Meuwen
Carrot 'Cosmic Purple' is a purple skin variety with bright orange coreless flesh. The tapering 7in (18cm) roots are tender and delicious eaten raw or cooked. Ideal as main crop. Available from Thompson & Morgan
Carrot 'Early Nantes' is a blunt ended deep orange variety with a small core and a sweet crunchy flavour. Ideal for autumn sowing.
Carrot 'Early Nantes 2' a reliable, easy to grow, fast maturing type. Ideal for sowing from late winter until mid-summer. Produces coreless, sweet crunchy medium length roots, around 6in (15cm) long. Available from Van Meuwen
Carrot 'Eskimo' (F1 Hybrid) is a cold tolerant variety with rich orange, cylindrical roots, that can cope with temperatures down to -10C. They can be lifted at the end of the season or over wintered in free draining conditions. Available from Thompson & Morgan
Carrot 'Flyaway' (F1 Hybrid) has been developed for its resistance to Carrot Root Fly. A sweet tasting variety with smooth skinned, blunt ended roots that are a rich orange colour throughout. Available from Van Meuwen
Carrot 'Kingston' (F1 Hybrid) is a main crop carrot the stores reasonably well. Available from Thompson & Morgan
Carrot 'Mokum' (F1 Hybrid) a crisp cylindrical rooted carrot with a lovely sweet flavour. The high yielding roots can reach up to 7in (18cm) long. Can be sown undercover for early crops, or sown later in the season under a cold frame. Available from Thompson & Morgan
Carrot 'Nandor' (F1 Hybrid) a blunt ended baby carrot, with cylindrical roots, bright orange skin and good flavour. Popular for successional sowings in patio containers. Available from Thompson & Morgan
Carrot 'Nantes Frubund' rapid cropping variety, ideal for autumn sowing with excellent cold resistance. Sow in the autumn outdoors under cloches and harvest in the spring. Available from Van Meuwen
Carrot Parmex is a tender, sweet round variety, that is ideal for containers, grow bags and shallow soils.
Carrot 'Paris Market - Atlas' early maturing, rounded, bite-sized carrots with a smooth, bright orange skin. Ideal for growing in containers and in heavy clay soils where other carrots struggle. Available from Thompson & Morgan
Carrot 'Purple Sun' (F1 Hybrid) noted for its high levels of healthy antioxidants, disease resistance, and good uniform roots. Available from Thompson & Morgan
Carrot 'Rainbow' (F1 Hybrid) produces a colourful mix of hybrids carrots in a range of skin and core colours. Ideal for adding a splash of colour to cooked dishes and salads. Available from Thompson & Morgan
Carrot 'Red Samurai' is a maincrop carrot with reddish skinned, long tapering roots, with pinkish flesh. Sweet and strong flavour. Available from Thompson & Morgan
Carrot 'Resistafly' (F1 Hybrid) a 'Nantes' type with a good tolerance to Carrot Root Fly, producing large blunt ended, cylindrical roots with a deliciously sweet flavour. The roots store particularly well. Available from Thompson & Morgan
Carrot 'Romance' (F1 Hybrid) is a vigorous grower that produces 'finger' sized roots in 12 weeks from an early sowing and a maincrop in 22 weeks. Sweet and crunchy taste. Ideal for the kitchen garden. Available from Thompson & Morgan
Carrot 'Sugarsnax 54' (F1 Hybrid) is a superbly flavoured sweet carrot that can be cooked or eaten raw. The 10in (25cm) roots contain high levels of beta carotene, giving them a rich orange colour. Stores well over winter. Available from Thompson & Morgan
Carrot 'Sweet Imperator Mix' (F1 Hybrid) is ideal for deep patio containers. The sweet, flavoursome roots are crisp and juicy in a spectacular array of colours, that provide a wide range of nutrients, vitamins and anti-oxidants. Available from Thompson & Morgan
Carrot 'Tendersnax' (F1 Hybrid) an early maturing carrot with an tender, juicy flavour. The tapering roots have smooth skins and a deep orange colour. Available from Van Meuwen