Carrot growing - Carrots how to grow, tips, varieties, cooking.
Carrots… upon harvest you could be treating yourself to a brightly coloured vegetable whose available nutrients actually increase with cooking - as long as it is not over-cooked. A good source of magnesium, potassium, vitamins A and C together with a form of calcium that is easily absorbed into the body. All wrapped up in a vegetable that is reasonably easy to grow once your selected soil and planting location are suitable.
Carrot roots are generally fleshy, tapered taproots. This orange swollen root grows anything from two to ten inches long. The above-ground foliage is a rosette of fine green leaves, almost fernlike in appearance.
Are they easy or hard to grow?
Reasonably easy to grow once soil is suitable.
Varieties suitable to grow in Ireland:
Amsterdam Forcing (Fast variety to mature, sweet flavour, 13 to 15 cm long stumpy roots good for growing in containers, ideal for freezing.)
Autumn King (Traditional long roots with good flavour, red-cored, good for storing.)
Nantes 2 (early or mid-season variety growing to 15cm long, tender texture, great orange colour, sweet flavour, stores well.)
Chantenay Red Cored 2 (flavour filled, stumpy roots good for growing in containers, early and successional sowing, orangey red flesh, crisp texture.)
St Valery (An exhibitors carrot, maincrop variety, long tapered roots, nicely coloured, stores well)
Flyaway (bred to deter carrot fly, similar to Autumn King)
James Scarlet Intermediate (good all-rounder, nice colour and flavour, intermediate length root.
When to grow:
Normally late March to the end of August. You can even sow in February provided it is under cloches, frames or fleece. It is possible to sow seeds every fortnight for successional harvesting.
Where to grow, and soil conditions required:
Although carrots can tolerate shade they will do much better in a sunny spot.
Shelter is also beneficial. Avoid soil that gets waterlogged or dries out rapidly.
As you are dealing with a root vegetable, deep, fertile, and slightly sandy soil is preferred. The sand aids drainage as well as allowing the soil to warm up as quickly as possible in spring. If your soil is sticky, stony, or shallow, then I suggest you instead opt for sowing short-rooted carrot varieties in early summer.
Relative acidity or alkalinity (Ph) required:
Carrots don’t grow very well in a strongly acid or strongly alkaline soil. This is because most essential vegetable nutrients in the soil are soluble and available for use at pH levels of 5.5 to 7.5 (slightly acid to neutral). Most vegetables grow best within this range.
If the pH (relative acidity or alkalinity) of your soil is not suited to the vegetable, then soil nutrients such as Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, iron, boron, copper, manganese and zinc start to become unavailable, leading to poor crops. You can use a home soil test available in most garden centres to determine your soils ph. By taking account of the test results you can then decide how much if any amendments are required to bring the to pH of your vegetable garden soil in line.
The application of ground lime will be helpful in countering the excessive acidity. As a rough rule of thumb, an application of 250g of ground lime per metre squared the autumn before planting/sowing will commonly increase your ph by about one point. However as lime is available in different formulations and soil types vary, I advise also consulting the rates set out on the pack.
If you need to decrease your ph to make the soil more acid, then you can apply sulphate of iron at a rate of 100g per metre squared for each drop in ph point. Apply this product according to the manufacturers instructions and heed safety warnings especially those concerning the use of protective clothing and equipment. An application of 2 inches of peat moss worked in to a spades depth all over the proposed growing area will also go a good way towards dropping your soil by one ph point.
Food reserves required:
For long term feeding of your crop, every 10m2 of growing area should have one wheelbarrow load of well-rotted homemade compost or farmyard animal manure spread over its surface sometime during the autumn/early winter before planting/sowing. Dig this in to a spades depth all over the proposed growing area to enrich it for your crop. Whilst digging, remove any stones and other obstacles that might cause the roots to become malformed (forking/fanging).
Incorporate the well-rotted homemade compost or farmyard animal manure in autumn/early winter before planting/sowing, or don’t do it at all. Do not dig in fresh manure or compost as it can cause the roots to fork or fang instead of growing long and straight. The carrots will still be fine to eat, but a pain to peel.
As a rule of thumb, well-rotted manure/compost will be over six months old, and tend to be dark brown will little if any smell. You should not be able to distinguish individual pieces of straw, hay, vegetable peelings, grass etc., as it will all be rotted down.
If unsure about the freshness of your compost or manure additions, then omit them completely when sowing your root vegetables. This will be fine as long as they are added to the soil before your next non-root vegetable crop in that location.
A week or two before sowing your seed should lightly rake a well-balanced fertilizer into your growing area. Growmore or fish blood and bone (organic option) are both suitable for this purpose. Apply according to the rates on the pack.
How to plant or sow:
In your weed-free and lightly raked growing area you must create a ½ inch (1cm) deep drill/trench with the tip of your trowel. Ideally you should drop a seed every 1in (2.5cm) along the drill. This reduces the amount of thinning required and consequently reduces the risk of attack by carrot root fly.
However, because the seeds are so small many gardeners opt to firstly mix the seeds with a quantity of dry sharp sand. Then they will lightly dust the mix out along the drill by working their thumb across their fingers. Whatever way the seeds are sown, don’t forget to close the drill with soil, then water well and label.
Create as many drills as you like at 6-inch (15cm) intervals. As a rough rule of thumb you can expect 4 to 5 kg of main-crop carrots per metre of row, which may help you make a decision on how much to grow. Any seed not required for sowing that year should be kept dry as it has a life expectancy of 4 years.
The expected seed germination time is approx 17 days. Its time for thinning when your seedlings have produced true leaves, those which are the first set of leaves that emerge after the original germination leaves. Thin them to leave a single plant at each 2-inch interval.
To prevent attracting carrot root fly by scent, you should thin on a calm evening and try to avoid crushing any carrot foliage whilst doing so. There is no use in lifting thinnings for transplanting as they will just produce malformed roots. Remove the thinnings from site and water the crop well afterwards.
Caring for your crop:
Keep the soil around the carrots weed-free. Take care when weeding because the roots are easily damaged.
During a prolonged spell without rain (week or more) you should water gently but deeply once a week. As a rough rule of thumb apply approx 10 litres per metre squared of soil area. Carry out this watering in the morning and try to avoid splashing the leaves, watering the soil instead.
At about the fifth or sixth week after seed germination and while plants are growing strongly you can apply a second application of a well balanced fertiliser. Although not essential, a further scattering of Growmore or fish blood and bone can increase the vegetables vigour and make the less susceptible to plant ills. Once scattered the fertiliser should be lightly scratched into the soils surface followed by gentle but deep watering of the soil.
Pests and Diseases:
Carrots have only one really serious pest problem and that is carrot root fly. An adult carrot fly lays its eggs in the soil around carrots. These then hatch into larvae (grubs) that burrow into the carrot roots.
You should not encounter too much carrot fly trouble though if you follow the thinning rules mentioned earlier. Surrounding or better still covering the crop with horticultural fleece, enviromesh or similar is another good method of carrot fly prevention.
Other troubles of carrots include…
Motley Dwarf Virus
Violet Root Rot.
Harvesting, when and how:
Time from planting to harvest is from 12 to 16 weeks. When the soil is moist you can grasp the leaves and carefully lever out the root from beneath with a hand fork, then shake off the soil.
For short-term storage (one to three weeks), place carrots in the salad crisper compartment of your refrigerator. Longer-term, the carrots will keep for four to five months in a area which is cool (2-4 degrees centigrade), dark and away from strong flavours or scents.
To long-term store, firstly select undamaged roots and snip off the leaves to about ½ an inch (1cm) above the crowns. You can then place individual layers of carrots in slatted boxes, surrounding each individual with dry sand, peat, paper or hay.
Two more layers of carrots are allowed to follow on top provided you ensure that buffer of dry sand, peat, paper or hay between each individual. Check on the carrots occasionally so that any rotten specimens can be removed. It is claimed that during the first five months of storage in his way, that carrots actually increase their vitamin A content.
Another storage option is to cut the carrots into slices, boil for five minutes, remove and place under cold water, then freeze in plastic bags. This will allows you to store them for approx six months.
There is no need to cook carrots if you don’t want to. Eat sweet baby carrots raw as a snack, and try to encourage the younger members of your household to do so as well. Mature carrots can be grated, mixed with a bit of oil, lemon and a handful of raisins as another snack.
To cook, simply peel, slice and boil for ten to twenty minutes in lightly salted water. Serve with butter and chopped parsley. Alternatively you can steam carrots for about 45 minutes, give or take a few minutes depending on desired texture.
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