All carrot, no stick
Garden to table series
Everyone loves carrots, but they are not easy to grow, as they have to be sown directly and don’t lend themselves to transplanting. I use radish as a ‘marking seed’, because they germinate in two to four days and tell me where my carrot seeds are. This makes it is easier to water them and later on remove weed competition before they germinate. My colleague Christiane Share is an expert on the topic, so I’ll hand over to her – Hans.
There’s no need to settle for lack-lustre supermarket carrots when you can grow the real deal – fresh full-flavoured carrots, at home. May is a great month to begin.
First, consider your soil. If you live by the sea and have sandy, well-drained soil you are in luck: Your carrots will be happy. Don’t be tempted to grow carrots in soil that has had fresh compost or manure added to it in the last few months – this will lead to lots of leaf and very little carrot!
A few preparatory steps go a long way when it comes to producing well-formed and flavoursome carrots. First, remove any stones, as they are obstacles to growth, and roots will fork to get around them. Then, work the soil to a fine tilth by breaking up any lumps with a fork and raking over.
Carrots and weeds can’t compete. Carrot seeds can take up to two weeks to germinate, and the shoots can quickly be left in the shade by weeds. To reduce weeds create a ‘stale’ seedbed – prepare the bed for planting, leave it alone until weeds sprout up, then remove them before sowing carrot seed.
Varieties and sowing
There are early- and main-crop varieties of carrots. Early carrots won’t grow successfully in heavy clay soils. If you have this type of soil consider growing early carrots in containers. A large terracotta pot is perfect for this; it should be at least 12 inches deep and 13 inches across. Nantes and Rocket F1 are two good early varieties. Sow earlies in the first month of May, and harvest them from August to September.
Sow main-crop varieties in the last week of May, and choose seeds to suit your soil. Autumn King 2 and Chantenay Red Core are varieties that will grow in heavier soils. In sandy soils, for a break from everyday orange, try Yellowstone, a yellow main-crop variety, or the red Rothild. Main crop varieties will be ready to harvest from October onwards.
To plant in a container, fill your pot with potting mix. You can add a few handfuls of sand if you have it, although this isn’t essential. Make shallow drills, two or three inches deep, and then water using a watering can with a fine rose. Sow carrots as thinly as you can and gently cover the drill over with soil. Eventually, you will want your plants spaced around an inch-and-a-half to three inches apart. Carrot seeds are so tiny that you will have to pull up (thin out) some of the seedlings soon after germination, and again three weeks later, to achieve this spacing.
In a garden bed, make rows of narrow drills three or four inches deep and eight inches apart with a hoe handle, then water and sow seeds thinly. Over the next few weeks you will thin seedlings twice to around three inches apart.
Thinning seedlings ensures the carrots have enough room to develop. Unfortunately this process also releases the carrot’s scent into the air, potentially attracting the number one carrot pest, the carrot-root fly. Take measures against this by watering the crop before thinning or thinning on a wet day to dampen the scent. Take care not to break off the roots when thinning, and remove thinnings from the area. The second time you thin, you will have baby carrots just big enough to eat.
Sowing your main-crop carrot seeds in the last week of May and into early June means your crop will be at less risk from carrot-root fly. If you are growing carrots in containers, cover the pot
Hans Wieland is joint manager of The Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co Leitrim. For more information, visit www.theorganiccentre.ie or phone 071 9854338.
Questions or comments? Contact Hans at firstname.lastname@example.org.