Step-by-step Guide to Growing Carrots
Carrots are one of the easiest vegetable crops to grow, provided thehas been well prepared. They are rich in calcium, phosphorus and vitamin A, and are a very popular winter standby, when other vegetables are scarce or expensive in the shops. Although usually considered a winter and early spring vegetable, by successive sowings and giving cold frame or cloche protection, you can crop carrots right through the year.
Carrots can be classified in two different ways: by shape or by the time of cropping. Shapes can be basically divided into three different groups, the short kind, which are round or stump-rooted (sometimes called shorthorn varieties), ideal for early or forced crops; the medium length type, more or less sausage-shaped or with a cylindrical tapering root, suitable for both storage and immediate use, and the long rooted, tapering type, which make a good, late maturing crop and are particularly suitable for exhibition. Long carrots can reach 90 cm (3’) in length, and should really only be attempted if you have near perfect growing conditions; otherwise, it is best to stick to intermediate or early-varieties. A good rule of thumb is: the more difficult the growing conditions, the smaller and quicker growing the varieties cultivated should be.
Carrots, like, are basically cropped in two ways. Early, quick-growing crops are pulled when quite small and either used raw in salads or cooked. These can be grown under glass or in the open. Their taste and texture when young are considered by many to be superior to fully mature carrot crops; they are sweeter and more tender than maincrops. The larger carrots, sown later in the year and pulled for winter storage, tend to be slightly tougher in texture and less fiavourful. Recent developments in plant breeding, however, have resulted in vastly improved maincrop varieties, without the pale, stringy, central core which made them so unpopular in the kitchen. These new varieties are also tastier.
Carrots are herbaceousgrown as . Most people think of all carrots as orange, but the wild carrot from which garden types were developed has a white taproot, and on the Continent purple, white and pale yellow varieties of carrots are grown. Because of their high sugar content, carrots are cultivated for sugar production as well as for use as a vegetable, and for distilling alcohol.
Suitable site and soil
Carrots prefer a deep, light, sandy loam. Early crops grow best in full sun, while maincrops appreciate some shading from hot summer sun. Soil conditions are extremely important, because carrots are a root crop, and must penetrate and build up their structure within the soil. Carrots require a deeply dug bed of friable (crumbly) soil about 45 cm (18”) deep, rich in finely divided particles of humus. Gravelly, heavy clay or stony soil is not suitable, because the roots will be unable to penetrate the soil evenly. Very light, sandy soils are only good for small early carrots; maincrop varieties require more substantial soil. Ideally, carrots should be grown on land with a high water table, so the crop never suffers from drought. This does not mean, however, that waterlogged or badly-drained soil is suitable, as carrots will not do well in those conditions.
Carrots should be grown on soil which was manured for a previous crop. If manure, gardenor similar materials are introduced into the soil immediately before growing carrots, some of the crop will tend to be malformed, the roots being split into two or more forks. Large stones can also result in crooked, deformed roots.
On a plot where crops are being grown in a rotation system, carrots should ideally be grown in the previous year’s celery bed, or followor .
Carrots grow best in sandy loams, but less suitable soils can be adapted for growing carrots by thorough digging and the incorporation of humus-forming manure or garden compost well before the seeds are sown. Ideally, carrots should follow a crop for which the ground was previously manured but, if necessary, major soil preparation can take place early in the autumn before sowing, the soil being left rough over winter. If the soil is very sandy, leafmould or compost will enrich it and increase its moisture retention. Make sure theis sifted and thoroughly mixed with the soil, so there are no pockets of compost or leafmould. Sandy soils are further improved by the addition of peat; peat helps to bind loose, fast-draining soils and also encourages better drainage and crumb structure on heavy soils that need lightening.
A week to ten days before sowing, rake the bed level and create a fine tilth to ensure maximum germination. After raking, work in 60 g per sq m (2 oz per sq yd) of a general fertilizer which has a low nitrogen content. Rake the fertilizer well into the surface of the bed.
When you have raked the bed level, position a line of string between two stakes across the bed to mark out the row of carrots. Run a corner of a hoe or rake along the line to cut out a V-shaped furrow at least 1.3 cm (1/2”) deep. Make the rows 15-23 cm (6-9”) apart for early crops, and 30 cm (1’) apart for main-crops.
Maincrops are sown from mid-spring to the end of mid-summer, the later the better, to avoid attacks from carrot fly. Early crops are sown outdoors from the beginning of spring, and at fortnightly or monthly intervals until late summer, to have a continuous supply. There are about 18,000 seeds per 30 g (1 oz), and the seeds will remain viable for five years if properly stored. Pelleted seeds are available and, although more expensive to buy, they are easier to handle and cut down the amount of thinning required.
Carrots prefer warm soil and grow best when not checked by cold. Seeds may fail to germinate if sown during a prolonged cold spell. If the weather is bleak at the time you planned to sow, use cloches of horticultural glass or plastic, or plastic mini-tunnels to warm up the soil in advance and to protect the. Make sure the end flaps of the tunnels are closed, or conditions will be very windy inside them, and their whole purpose will have been defeated.
There are several methods of sowing carrot seeds. They should be sown as thinly as possible, to avoid waste and the fiddly task of thinning out. Pelleted seeds can be placed singly in the drills, 2.5 cm (1”) apart. A traditional method is to mix the seeds with sand, and then sow the mixture evenly along the drill. You can also mix radish seed with the carrot seed. Thewill be ready for harvesting early on and this is an easy way of thinning the carrot row. Alternatively, you can sow carrot seed either in pinches between finger and thumb, or by carefully shaking the seed into the drill direct from the packet with the hand held just a few centimetres above the drill. Whatever method of sowing is used, the drill should have been thoroughly watered the day before sowing, if the soil is at all dry.
After sowing, replace the soil by gently covering the drill, so that the seeds are no more than 0.6 cm (1/4”) deep, using the back of a rake. A better but more painstaking method of doing this job is to place your feet on either side of the drill, and shuffle forward along the row, with your toes pointing outwards and your feet pushing soil into the drill. This action safely covers the carrot seed and at the same time gives the row a gentle firming. After covering the seed, rake the soil level by lightly pulling the rake down the row—never across it. Raking across the row would disturb or actually displace some of the seeds. Germination normally occurs from 14-18 days after sowing, but may be a few days longer in cold conditions. If a heavy rain threatens immediately after sowing, cover the drills with mats so the rain does not beat down the soil.
Thinning and general cultivation
The essential task of thinning should begin when the greenery is about 2.5 cm (1”) high. The best time to thin your carrots is after a rain shower; the water loosens the soil and makes the seedlings easier to lift. Doing this work in the evening seems to lessen the chance of attack from carrot fly.
If the carrots were sown in groups, pull out the smallest seedlings in each cluster; if sown continuously along the drill, thin initially to 1.2 cm apart. The carrots from the first one or two thinnings will be tiny, but the last thinnings in the early crop can be used in the kitchen. Early crops should have a final distance of 5 cm (2”) between each root; the maincrops should be thinned to a final distance of 10-15 cm (4-6”) apart. Try not to bruise or break the leaves while thinning, as the pungent odour is very attractive to carrot flies. For the same reason, remove all thinnings immediately and bury them well in the middle of the compost heap. Because firm soil discourages the female fly from laying eggs, water the rows after thinning to firm the soil and fill any holes created by the removal of seedlings. If the soil is cracking because of dry weather, it needs water for the same reason, as well as to supply the carrots. Keepunder control, and do not allow the crop to run short of water during dry spells.
Forcing varieties of carrots can be grown to mature at times when bought carrots are expensive. Sow the seed on a hotbed in a cold frame in mid-winter if the weather is mild, otherwise wait until the weather warms up in late winter or early spring. Make the hot-bed from a mixture of manure and other humus-containing materials that create their own heat by fermentation. The hot-bed for out-of-season carrots should be a gentle one, consisting of a basic layer of straw and rotted manure mixed with rotted leaves. Stack up this mixture until it is about 15 cm (6”) deep. Turn it over and moisten it every day for about a week to encourage fermentation, then flatten it and cover it with about 15 cm (6”) of good garden loam.
Scatter seeds of a stump-rooted carrot variety thinly over the soil, work them in just below the surface with a hand fork, and firm the bed with a wooden board. Water frequently, give ventilation if the weather allows, and cover the frame with sacking or other protection on frosty nights. Do not allow the temperature to fall below 7°C (45°F). Thin first to about 2.5 cm (1”) apart, then to 5 cm (2”); these second thinnings should be big enough to use in the kitchen. When grown in a cold frame, carrots can be sown with lettuce or radishes; these can be harvested fairly quickly, giving the long term carrot crop room to grow.
Carrots can also be forced in unheated cold frames or cloches out of doors, from late winter onwards. Cultivation is the same as for carrots grown on a hot bed. Without the additional warmth of a hot bed, though, the carrots will take longer to mature.
Varieties of Carrot for Growing at Home
Nantes-Champion Scarlet Horn: cylindrical roots, free from fleshy core; flesh dark red; 10-12 cm (4-5”) long; good for growing under cloches and successional sowings.
Amsterdam Forcing: very popular stump-rooted carrot, earliest to mature; excellent for successional sowings or growing under cloches.
Parisian Roido: almost completely round roots 5 cm (2”) in diameter when fully grown; useful for forcing or sowing in succession.
Early Nantes: small, cylindrical, blunt-ended carrot; suitable for forcing and eating raw.
Nantes-Tip Top: cylindrical, stump-ended roots 15 cm (6”) long; flesh core-less and sweet; good for maincrop harvesting as well as early crops.
Little Finger: slender, quick-growing carrot of good flavour; useful for early sowing under glass.
Planet: roots round, 5 cm (2”) in diameter; quick-growing, excellent for shallow soils; novelty variety, but crunchy and sweet-tasting.
Pioneer (F, hybrid): Nantes type; quick grower with heavy, uniform crops; cylindrical roots medium-sized, tender and sweet.
French Horn Forcing: round variety; very fast growing.
Chantenay Red-cored (Early Market): very fast grower; crops heavy and uniform; stump-rooted. Short V Sweet: 7.5-10 cm (3-4”) long, excellent flavour; crops well in light or heavy soil.
Konfrix: round, fast-growing and early carrot; suitable for forcing under glass; very tolerant of soil conditions.
Saber (F, hybrid): new variety; very fast-growing carrot, uniform and vigorous; tapered shape.
Sucram: Nantes type variety with high sugar content and very sweet flavour; very small, tapered.
Early Horn: very quick-growing variety; stump-rooted with very little core; suitable for successional sowings.
Frubund: new variety, extremely hardy and early; stump-rooted, and excellent for successional sowing through autumn.
Autumn King-Early Giant: long, blunt-tipped, extra hardy; larger than Nantes type, good for storing for winter use; somewhat resistant to drought and carrot fly.
Nezv Red Intermediate: longest carrot, with bright red colour and good texture; good for winter storing and exhibition work.
Chantenay Red-Cored-Concord: large, stump-rooted medium-early strain; suitable for early, as well as maincrop sowings; can be stored for winter use; good flavour.
Chantenay Red-Cored-Favourite: very popular stump-rooted maincrop variety; good for exhibition work in ‘short’ class.
Royal Chantenay: stump-rooted variety; deep red flesh with very little core.
Scarla: stump-rooted, cylindrical roots; first-class flesh colour; excellent main-crop variety.
Scarlet Perfection: long, stump-rooted variety; first-class flesh; keeps well for winter use.
St Valery: good cropper; long, tapering roots suitable for exhibition work.
Autumn King-Vita Longa: long, large carrot with stump-ended roots giving heavy yields; first-class flavour; good for winter storage.
Flakkee: Dutch variety with large, stump-rooted crops; suitable for winter storage and very good for exhibition. Long Red Surrey: large, tapered main-crop variety suitable for growing on sandy soils.
James Scarlet Intermediate: large, tapered carrot with heavy, uniform crops; good flavour.
Juwarot: cylindrical-shaped carrot; very good flavour and high vitamin A content; very attractive bright orangy-red colour; stores for a long time.
Zino: new variety; very large, cylindrical carrot; excellent for exhibition work and kitchen.
Pride of Denmark: one of the earlier croppers of maincrop varieties; long, tapering roots; bright orange with red cores; fine flavour.
Pests and Diseases
Carrots are largely pest and disease free; most of the problems occur when carrots are improperly stored in autumn and winter. Conscientious storage preparation is the best precaution against most of the diseases listed below. If there is an outbreak, remove and destroy infected carrots immediately, to avoid spreading the disease.
Carrot fly: this very serious pest attacks other vegetables besides carrots;and celery are also vulnerable. The worst damage is most likely to occur in hot, dry weather, on very free-draining soil. Large crops of carrots, such as those grown on a commercial scale, seem somewhat more susceptible than the average size crop in a private garden or allotment. The carrot fly, which is about 1 cm (1/3”) long, black with yellow legs and transparent wings, is attracted by the pungent smell of the carrot foliage, and finds small areas of disturbed soil near the rows ideal places to lay its eggs. The tiny pale yellow maggots that emerge from the eggs then burrow into the roots and may devastate the crop. Wilting, reddened foliage is usually the chief symptom above ground; seedlings will be killed. The main carrot fly attack occurs in late spring, so by delaying sowing until the end of early summer it is possible to miss it altogether. The second generation of adult flies does not start laying eggs until late summer, and the maggots hatching from these are unlikely to cause serious damage.
Since thinning the young plants unavoidably releases the smell of the foliage, sow the seeds as thinly as possible to reduce the possibility of attack. Do this in the evening, when the fly is less likely to be about, and destroy the thinnings. Never use a hoe to thin out the young crops; disturbing the soil encourages the flies to lay eggs nearby.
Some veteran gardeners sow rows ofbetween the carrots, because the scent of parsley is said to counteract that of the carrot leaves and so distract or deter the fly. Rows of between carrot rows are said to have the same beneficial effect. Alternatively, a rag soaked in paraffin oil can be pulled along the rows occasionally to introduce a camouflage scent. You can also use bromophos dust according to manufacturer’s directions.
Wireworm. This pest is most serious in gardens which have been newly turned over from grassland, and is unlikely u cause am trouble on land which has been under cultivation for some time. The larvae of the click beetle are also damaging on weedy, neglected gardens. The larvae, which are about 2.5 cm (1”) long, shiny and golden-yellow with six legs, live in the soil and eat the roots of many plants besides carrots, severely damaging or killing them.
The best precaution against wire-worm is to make sure your ground is cultivated well and often. Hand weed between plants to keep weeds down, and also expose wireworms to insectivorous birds. Seeds treated with insecticide are somewhat less vulnerable. If the soil is badly infested, you can apply insecticides, such as diazinon or bromophos, according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Aphids: these weaken the carrots by-sucking sap from the foliage, and some forms damage the roots, so are doubly damaging. The foliage of carrots will be stunted, wilted, and greyish-green. To control aphids, apply derris or bioresmethrin as soon as the infestation occurs, and again as necessary. Since they attack during dry weather, keeping the plants well watered will help to ward off and minimize the damage.
Eelworm: there are various sorts of eelworm which attack both herbaceous and vegetable crops. The microscopic, transparent worms live inside the root tissue of the carrot and multiply rapidly, eventually killing the host plant. Eel-worms are difficult for the home gardener to control with chemical insecticides as the soil remains infested for some time after the host plant is removed. Once the carrots are infested, the symptoms of which are wilted foliage and distorted roots, all carrots must be dug out and destroyed immediately. You cannot use the ground for growing carrots for at least seven years and all weeds should be destroyed. This is the only absolutely certain method of getting rid of eelworm; otherwise, new crops may be re-infested.
Violet root rot: this is a serious fungal disease which attacks asparagus, parsnips, beetroot andas well as carrots. It is a soil-borne disease, and infected carrots will have webs of reddish-violet strands enmeshing the roots. The above ground symptom of infection is yellowing of foliage. There is no chemical cure for violet root rot; grub up and destroy infested plants. As with eelworm, do not replant the site with carrots for several years.
Split root: this is a physiological disorder, rather than a disease, which is usually caused by a fluctuating water supply. If there is a heavy rainfall after a period of drought, the inner flesh of the carrot expands faster than the toughened skin, causing the skin to fissure. The best precaution against split root is to ensure that the carrots are never allowed to go for long periods of time without water.
Sclerotina rot: this is a problem which occurs under improper damp storage conditions. The symptoms of sclerotina rot are white woolly fungal growths, first seen near the crowns of the roots; in these growths form black resting spore-bodies which can later infect nearby carrots. The best precaution is to ensure that there is proper ventilation in the clamp or box, and that no damaged carrots are ever .stored. If there is an attack of sclerotina rot, remove and destroy all infected carrots. Soft rot: this is a bacterial disease most often encountered in roots damaged during cultivation or by pests; infected carrots become soft, discoloured and unpleasant smelling in the centre, although the outside may look normal. As with sclcrotina rot, remove and destroy infected roots so that the bacteria cannot infect healthy carrots. Heavily manured soil, in which carrots are grown in successive years, predisposes them to the disease. Black rot: a disease found on stored roots, which shows as black sunken patches, usually near the shoulder of the root. As the fungus is carried on the seed, it should always be obtained from reputable nurseries. No chemical control is known at present, and affected roots should be destroyed, not put on the compost heap, or returned to the soil.