Carrots are one of the most popular vegetables in cuisines around the world. Equal parts sweet and savory, carrots add a complex flavour to soups and stews, and have a wonderful crunch when eaten raw. No crudité platter is complete without carrots!
Whether you are a novice gardener just starting out, or you have a seasoned green thumb, carrots have a place in your crop. They are hardy enough to withstand colder weather, but it is always a good idea to shelter them in a polytunnel. Read ahead to learn all you need to know about growing carrots.
Carrots are a robust crop that are ideal for even the most novice gardener. That said, cold spring temperatures can wreak havoc on young plants. While you can sow your carrots outdoors in the early spring, you might find that your harvest suffers. Your young carrot plants can be destroyed by cold temperatures, icy rain, and late frost. The hardiest carrot varieties tend to be the most tough and bland tasting, so you lose out on the sweet and delicate flavour you’re after.
Growing carrots in a polytunnel right from the get go gives you a lot more options. While carrots are traditionally sown in spring, a polytunnel can extend your growing season by weeks or even months. A very early crop can go in the ground in March! By using one of our polytunnels, a cloche, or some horticultural fleece you provide your young carrots with the protection they need to thrive.
Even if you are worried about space, a small polytunnel easily squeezes into the tiniest gardens. At just 6ft x 8ft (1.83m x 2.44m), our smallest polytunnel gives you the extra advantage you need for a successful harvest. Polytunnels can be placed directly in your garden, or in raised beds on soil, timber or concrete.
Carrots will thrive in nearly every type of soil, but they will not do well in waterlogged soil, heavy clay, or in an area with too many stones. They can handle droughts, and don’t need to be watered very often. If you notice your carrot tops wilting, you can water them every 10 to 14 days. That said, this is not usually needed in our rainy UK climate.
While most gardeners sow their carrots directly into the soil or in a raised bed, you can start them in smaller containers. Some carrot varieties are short-rooted enough for container growing, something that would work well for a flat’s patio.
Sow your carrot seeds in shallow drills. You can sow early varieties in early March for harvest in the fall, or in July or August for a winter harvest. Protect your crops with polytunnels, extra cloches or horticultural fleece from October onwards. You can also plan additional seeds a few weeks later for multiple harvests.
Weeding can be a challenge with carrots, as they take a long time to germinate. Savvy gardeners scatter a few radish seeds in intervals alongside their carrots. The radishes sprout first, and this way you will know where to weed! Simple.
Do not underestimate the importance of weeding. Carrots hate competition, and they will suffer from any crowding. Once they are starting to grow well, thin them to roughly 7cm apart. You can use these tiny carrots in a salad.
Don’t use manure or fertilisers on your carrots – they don’t need it. Fresh manure or rotted manure can cause your carrots to grow ‘legs’ or fork out in two. The manure causes the carrots to send out side roots, resulting in a forked appearance. Other kinds of misshapen carrots can be the result of disease, overly-enriched soil, and/or pests.
Carrot flies can be a big problem in some gardens. You can prevent and deter carrot flies by planting fragrant herbs and onions amidst your rows.
Mature carrots are usually ready for harvest between 12 to 16 weeks after sowing. (Remember, you can use the smaller pullings for salads as you thin them throughout the season). Check your seed packets to find out exactly how many days your variety takes to mature.
You can tell that most carrots are ready to harvest when you can see their ‘shoulders’ popping through the soil, and they are 1-2 cm in diameter. That said, some varieties should be wider or narrower. Ensure that you harvest your carrots before the ground freezes.
When it comes time to pull your carrots, resist the urge to pull the foliage and give it a tug – this can result in a handful of greenery with no carrot atop! Loosen the surrounding soil with a garden fork, and then trim the tops a few cm from the carrot. Rinse the dirt off of your carrots, and thoroughly dry before you place them into storage. You can store clean carrots in the fridge for 2 to 4 weeks. You can also place them in a box of sand in a dry, cool cellar for months. They will keep in a bucket of sand in a cool cellar for several months.
Never store your carrots anywhere near apples or pears. Apples and pears release a gas that will cause your carrots to turn bitter. If you want to keep your carrots in storage for longer, you can also can, freeze, or pickle them. Bon Appetit!
Very early crop – sow under cover in early March
Early crop – April
Main crop – mid April to June
Lifting time – very early crop – June
Rest – July to October
No matter how and when you decide to sow your carrots, you have a delicious and fresh crop to look forward to when you harvest. Perfect in salads, soups, stews and on their own, there is a reason why carrots are a favourite around the world.