Get the soil conditions correct and carrots are one of the easiest vegetables to grow in the cooler climates. Incorrect soil conditions lead to misshapen carrots - these may well cause a chuckle when dug up, but they are not so well appreciated at cooking time! Carrots are rich in vitamin A, calcium and trace elements and a good source of fibre. Maincrop varieties can be stored for up to three months making it possible to have a near year round supply.
Sowing Carrot Seeds
The most difficult thing about learning about growing carrots is understanding how to avoid the carrot root fly. The root fly is attracted to the carrots by the smell of the foliage which is more intense after any job you have to do on them. The idea therefore is sow as close as you can to the correct distances and to protect the crop.
Carrots require a very fine soil without any large stones or obstacles. The soil should be light and sandy if possible and not recently manured. Carrots are bad competitors with weeds so you want as weed free an environment as possible. The stale seedbed technique is a good organic solution where the bed is cleared and prepared and left for any weed seeds present to germinate. Hoe or rake out the young weeds before you plant your carrot seeds.
When sowing your seeds you want to get them as close as you can to the correct spacing as removing any unwanted plants will attract the carrot fly. Carrot seeds are very small and difficult to sow thinly so here's a trick:
Mix your carrot seed with sand at a ratio of 100 to 1, that's about a quarter teaspoon of carrot seed to a quarter cup of sand.
Sow your carrot seeds in shallow drills about 2cm deep. Spacing for carrots is 3-4cm between plants and 20-25cm between rows. They should start to pop their heads above the ground in approx 17 days.
Carrot Root Fly
Root fly is one of the most persistent and annoying pest you'll encounter when growing carrots. The flies little white maggots burrow into the flesh of your carrots making them unattractive and prone to rot. It is impossible to get rid of but there's a lot you can do to avoid it.
Leave your sowing till quite late to avoid the first generation of the fly. Delaying till the end of May is advisable.
Try to sow as close as you can to the correct spacing to avoid too much thinning. When you have to, do it on a windy day and bury the thinned foliage. The tiny carrots make a lovely snack.
Cover Your Crop
In my opinion this is the best method. Cover the crops with a supported bionet or enviromesh cover which has been specially designed to keep out the carrot fly. Keep your thinning to a minimum and bang the cover back on as quickly as possible. You can either buy a pre made cover or make your own.
You are better off harvesting your carrots in one go as the carrot small will attract the flies in large numbers. If you're not using a cover and harvest every now and then you will find the last carrots severely infested with maggots.
The best time to do this is in the evening. Thinning carrots needs to be a quick and efficient exercise as the smell of newly plucked baby carrots will attract the root fly. Do this all in one go and don't leave the pulled foliage or baby carrots lying around, burn or bury them.
Gently pull up any excess carrot seedlings to leave a spacing of 3-4 cm between plants. Remove any weed seedlings which may have come up also as carrots are poor competitors with weeds and will produce thin, spindly growth.
Water if the weather is dry, carrots need consistency. If your carrots have been dry for a week or two and then watered they are likely to split. As with many things, little and often.
Keep those carrots weed free for best results! I don't recommend using a hoe because it'll cause slight damage to the carrot foliage, thus attracting the fly.
Pick any weeds by hand between the rows. You'll find because we've planted the carrots quite close the densely packed foliage will keep the weeds down. By the way if you use a micromesh cover you'll have less weeding to do as weed seeds won't have blown in from surrounding weeds.
If the weather is dry keep your carrots watered otherwise they are likely to split when a rainy period arrives. This is caused by a sudden burst of growth when the moist conditions return after a dry spell.
Early carrots don't store well and are at their tastiest when just harvested. The problem is the carrot fly will be attracted by the smell so you'll need to be careful. If you haven't done so already now is the time to get a micromesh cover. Keep the cover over the carrots, only removing it to harvest. Make sure you replace it after picking and don't leave any carrot foliage lying around.
Maincrop carrots are suitable for storage and can be harvested all at once if you wish. As with most things however the flavour is better when freshly picked. Do be careful about the dreaded root fly but if you use an enviromesh cover you should be fine.
If you live in a wet area you are better off lifting all your carrots or they may rot in the ground over winter.
As carrots should have a loose sandy soil they are usually very easy to harvest, just grab the tops and pull gently. A garden fork or trowel can be used to loosen the soil around the carrots if required. If the green foliage breaks off, don't worry, just dig the carrots up. If you have a heavier soil you should fork the roots up to avoid breaking them.
If there are too many carrots to eat at any one time they can be placed in a box of slightly moist peat or sand and placed in a cool, frost free, dark place for storage. They should keep for a couple of months in these conditions. When harvesting carrots for storage you need to be picky about quality control. Any damaged roots need to be used in the kitchen or thrown away as they will rot quicker and may spread to the rest. Cut off all the leaves about half an inch above the root and place the carrots in a box of moist sand in a dry, frost free shed. Don't let the roots touch to prevent any rotten ones infecting the guy next door. They should keep in this way until March.