How to grow carrots uk

As the old saying goes, “the carrot is mightier than the sword”, well something like that anyway. The mighty carrot is a staple of the English diet. It can be boiled, roasted, mashed, grated, and can even be eaten raw. It can be found as a side on roast dinners and it is the hero vegetable that gives an otherwise lifeless looking coleslaw a bit of colour.

What about the weather? Where do I grow Carrots? How do I grow Carrots? Well, do not fear, carrots are quite easy to grow if you know how and we have all the answers you need in the article below.

Why Grow your own Carrots?

Carrots help you see in the dark! Er, actually no. Although carrots are a great source of Vitamin A which is beneficial to your overall eye health, carrots will not suddenly give you night vision!

Carrots are a great vegetable to grow and like most vegetables, they are packed with nutrients and they are a sure-fire way to keep young children interested in the garden, especially at harvest time when you get to pull them up.

Not only are carrots great for teaching children about growing things, but there is also nothing better than preparing and eating your own home-grown veg.

There are several different varieties to choose from in a range of shapes and sizes. Not all carrots are long, orange and tapered like the carrots we have grown used to seeing in the supermarket or on tv.

Varieties of Carrot

There are many different varieties of carrot in different shapes and sizes, but they can all be divided into 2 basic categories, earlies, and maincrop. Earlies are usually sown at the end of March or beginning of April and take 12 weeks to mature and Maincrop varieties are usually sown in Mid-May and can take up to 16 weeks to grow and mature.

If you wish, you can plant both types of carrot around April but that is not something we recommended. We have always found our early carrot varieties to be more tender and flavourful than maincrops. Maincrops that are planted later are better for storing and if stored correctly, will keep for months so you will have carrots right into the new year.

Where to get Carrot Seeds

If you have grown carrots before, you may already have some seeds that are dried and ready to be sown. If not, there are many places that you can buy carrot seeds.

Good quality carrot seeds can be purchased in all good garden centres but if you do not have a chance to get to a garden centre, you can order them online. There are several trusted retailers out there that will have a range of different seeds meaning that you will soon be able to grow your own Purple Sun (amazon link – opens in a new tab) or Autumn Kings (amazon link – opens in a new tab).

Be sure to check which variety of carrot you are buying as different varieties will favour different growing conditions.

Where to Plant Carrot Seeds

Here at the Garden Doctor, we are huge fans of growing vegetables in a raised bed. Raised beds with the right soil mix gives you the opportunity to create the perfect growing conditions for your carrots. If you are not sure what we mean by a raised bed, check out our post on how to build a raised bed vegetable garden. Also, a worthwhile benefit of growing your carrots in a raised bed is that it will lengthen your growing season as the soil temperature will rise to optimum levels much sooner than beds that are dug into the ground.

If you do not have the space for a raised bed, you are able to grow a crop almost anywhere. You will need to ensure that the area where you intend to grow your carrots gets a lot of direct sunlight although they will tolerate a little shade at some point during the day.

We have grown small crops in buckets, containers and even once in an old 18-inch-deep ceramic sink. You can plant your carrots wherever you like but you will need to check your seed packet to see how long your carrots are likely to be.

Carrots that do not have enough soil depth will end up damaged and deformed.

Best Soil mix for Growing Carrots

Being a root vegetable, carrots will not grow in soil that is too heavy or full of clay. Carrots thrive in a light and lump free soil with good drainage so you will want to ensure that your soil is free of stones and not prone to clodding.

Carrots also do not like soil with too much Nitrogen and a will grow better in soil with a neutral ph. of between 5.6 and 6.5. Carrots will struggle with soil that is too acidic so if your soil needs work, we advise adding a little lime when you prepare you bed the Autumn before planting.

How to Plant Carrot Seeds

Carrots are root vegetables and like the roots of almost all plants, they do not like to be disturbed. Carrots do not take kindly to being transplanted therefore, we always recommend that you sow your carrots where they will stay.

There are various ways to sow your carrot seeds and I am sure that they all have their merits and pitfalls, but we have our preferred method, and we are sticking with it.

Surface Sowing

A close friend of mine and another gardening blogger just scatters his carrot seeds (this is known as surface sowing). 

With no rhyme or reason, he will just scatter them like he is feeding seed to a bird or adding salt to a meal leaving the seeds just sitting atop of his soil. 

He will of course water them and tend to them in the usual way and he finds this method highly successful, often getting a great crop year after year. 

For me however, this is too chaotic, I like to sow my carrots in neat and tidy rows.

Sowing Carrots in Rows

Here at the Garden Doctor, we like a little more organisation than scattering our seeds, so we sow our seeds in neat and tidy rows and here is how we do it.

Using a length of bamboo, we score the soil to make our drills about 1cm deep and we will keep each row around 15cm apart.

We will then sparingly sow our carrot seeds into the drills around a cm apart Then gently dust over the displaced soil leaving the seeds loosely covered and water.

Thinning young Carrot Plants

Once your seedlings have formed their first true leaves, you will want to begin thinning. Thinning is a process of culling some of the young seedlings to give the stronger looking plants a better chance of growth. When too many carrots shoot up in the same place, they all end up vying for the same nutrients and we do not want our plants competing so we will look to get rid of some.

Thin short-rooted varieties until they are around 5cm apart and thin longer rooted varieties to around 8cm apart. This will give your carrots enough room to take on the much-needed nutrients needed for growth.

What can go Wrong Growing Carrots

Not only do we have to contend with the weather and tending to our plants, but there are also several other things that can go wrong when growing carrots although the majority can be controlled or avoided if you employ good practice.

Carrot Fly

Carrot fly are a real pest and although they are named carrot fly, they can affect a few other vegetables too; like Parsley, Celery and Parsnips. The carrot fly is attracted to the carrot because of the sweet aroma of the leaves and they use the plant to lay their eggs. When the eggs hatch, the maggots will feed on your carrots by boring into the taproot.

Control

There are a few ways to help you avoid a carrot fly attack.

  • Choose cultivars less susceptible to attack such as resistafly (affiliate link).
  • Do your thinning in the evening or on a cooler dull day to reduce the smell of crushed foliage which can attract the Carrot fly (alternately, you could sow your seeds thinly to avoid thinning altogether).
  • Female carrot flies lay their eggs in late May/ early June so if you sow your maincrop in late June/ early July you may well escape an attack altogether.
  • Grow your carrots under an insect proof mesh (affiliate link) to prevent an attack.

Split Roots

A split root is exactly that. The taproot will have a split down the length of its flesh rendering the vegetable inedible. A split root can occur when the plant receives a lot of water after a long period of being dry. The plant will take on as much water as possible but more than it can handle making it split.

Control

Carrot fly are a real pest and although they are named carrot fly, they can affect a few other vegetables too; like Parsley, Celery and Parsnips. The carrot fly is attracted to the carrot because of the sweet aroma of the leaves and they use the plant to lay their eggs. When the eggs hatch, the maggots will feed on your carrots by boring into the taproot.

Wireworms

Wireworms are also a tricky little pest. They are the small yellow larvae of the click beetle. The small larvae feed on the roots and stem bases of your vegetables and can even cause some plants to collapse.

Control

  • Lift mature crops as soon as possible and destroy any larvae that you find.
  • Ensure a good cultivation of your soil prior to the growing season.

How to Harvest Carrots

Now we have done all the hard work, it is time for the fun part and that is harvesting our carrots! This is the part that kids will especially love and can be made even more fun if you are growing rainbow carrots (affiliate link) as you will not know what colour they are until you pull them up!

You can harvest your early cultivars between 7 and 12 weeks after sowing and your maincrop varieties 10 to 16 weeks after they were sown.

Pulling your carrots is easy, just get a nice firm grip of the plant and pull – well, that is the fun way that kids will enjoy, you can also gently fork them out by placing the fork adjacent to your row and levering until the crop is resting on the soil. 

Did you Know?

Garden Doctor Trev

“Eating too many carrots can turn your skin orange! This is called carotenosis and is a harmless effect that will cease as you lessen your carrot intake!”

“Although the whole plant can be eaten, the part of the carrot that is eaten the most is called the Taproot!”

“The most fun carrots to grow are the rainbow variety, you never know what you are going to get!”

“The myth that carrots would make you see in the dark was created by British Intelligence during the second world war. This fake propaganda was created to hide the fact that the Brits had the first working radar network operational which aided them in shooting down German raiders during the night!”

Frequently Asked Questions

Do carrots help you see in the dark?

No, although carrots contain Vitamin A (in beta-carotene form) and are incredibly good for your overall eye-health, carrots will not help you see in the dark. This was a myth created during WWII by the British to hide the fact that they had an operational radar network.

Can you eat carrot greens?

Yes, you can eat carrot greens. Historically, before people began eating the taproot, carrots were originally cultivated for their sweet edible greens. Tip – carrot greens go great in a sweet green smoothie.

Can carrots be frozen?

Yes, carrots can be frozen although it is not recommended that you freeze fresh carrots unblanched. Once blanched, carrots will keep in the freezer for up to a year.

Can carrots go bad?

Yes, if not stored correctly, carrots will go bad. Ensuring that you store your carrots correctly will make them last longer. There are various ways to store carrots including freezing, storing in a clamp, or storing in sand.

Can carrots kill you?

Carrots can kill if a person has an allergic reaction. Carrot allergies are rare but severe anaphylaxis can kill very quickly. If you are prone to allergies, carrots can kill.

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