There’s no substitute for the taste of carrots grown from seed in the garden or on the allotment. Freshly-pulled carrots are packed with flavour because they can be enjoyed before the ageing process turns their natural sugars into starch. Growing your own also allows gardeners to try out interesting types they probably won’t find in the shops, such as white, yellow and purple ones, along with the huge choice of orange varieties.
Carrots are a great starter crop for children, who can get involved in sowing, growing and harvesting, and some can be brought on in containers too if space is at a premium.
Don’t be put off by carrot fly, which can cause damage to roots. If this pest is prevalent where you live, simply opt for cultivars such as Resistafly F1 Hybrid that are specially bred to offer protection.
Where to grow carrots
Carrots grow best within an open and sunny site and in soil that’s deep, light, fertile and free-draining. Stony ground or thick clay can produce oddly-shaped carrots, so try shorter-rooted types such as ‘Atlas’ in such circumstances. Avoid growing carrots on ground that’s been freshly manured as this may encourage forking.
When to grow carrots
Early-cropping carrot seeds can be sown from March, or possibly February in milder areas. Use protective measures such as cloches or horticultural fleece to warm the soil for earlier sowings. Main crop carrots should be started between April and early July.
When to harvest carrots
Earlies should be ready between 12 and 18 weeks. Main crop varieties usually take between 18 and 24 weeks.
How to prepare the soil for carrots
Ideally, dig the ground in autumn to loosen it up and remove weeds and stones. Rake over the soil in spring to break it into fine particles. To increase fertility, dig in well-rotted manure and compost, or a multi-purpose fertiliser, several months before sowing seeds.
How to sow carrot seeds
- Use a cane or something similar to press onto the soil surface, creating a drill line about 1cm (0.5inches) deep in which to sow seeds.
- Keep each drill line between 15 and 30 cm (6 and 12 inches) apart.
- Water the drill.
- Sprinkle seeds sparingly along the line, then carefully cover with a fine layer of soil using a trowel or your hand.
- Remember to mark the line of carrot seeds with a label.
- Water regularly but be careful not to overwater.
- Sow more seeds at two-weekly intervals to enjoy a continuous harvest through the season.
- As the plants grow, thin out any that are too close together. The ideal is to have individual plants between 5 and 7.5 cm (6 and 12 inches) apart so that each carrot can swell to a good size.
How to grow carrots in containers
If sowing in containers, select a pot, trough or bag and fill with a good quality compost formulated for vegetables, such as Marshalls Vegetable Growing Blend or peat-free Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads. Water compost and sow one of the shorter-rooted types, such as Atlas or ‘Short n Sweet’, taking care to sprinkle seed sparingly. Cover with a thin layer of compost, label and water regularly to make sure the container does not dry out.
How to protect carrots
Carrot root fly can be a problem when growing carrots. If your garden is prone to this pest, put up 60cm (24 inch) high barriers made from clear polythene or horticultural fleece around carrot crops to keep these low-flying pests from attacking your plants. Alternatively, cover crops with a layer of fleece. Sowing sparingly keeps thinning to a minimum, which reduces the chances of the fly smelling the young carrots. Another way to beat carrot fly is to choose pest-resistant cultivars such as Resistafly FI Hybrid. Measures to prevent slugs and snails from munching young seedlings are also recommended.
How to harvest carrots
Harvest carrots when their tops look a good size. Early sowings should be ready to pull from June. Use a fork to lift larger roots from heavier soils if they don’t emerge easily when pulled. Some plants can be left in the ground until autumn to prolong the harvest period.