Homegrown and shop-bought carrots are as different as two types of vegetable. Even if you buy the best that you can find they will not match the flavour, freshness and colour that homegrown have.

Carrots come in different colours including orange, purple, white, yellow, and red and there is something of a renaissance for these multi-coloured varieties taking place.

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The reason for carrots being predominantly orange in recent times is attributed to Dutch growers in the 17th century who are said to have cultivated orange carrots as a tribute to William of Orange.

Their crunchy texture and sweet taste make carrots popular to eat raw and cooked in sweet and savoury dishes as well as drunk as a juice.

Carrots contain high quantities of alpha and beta-carotene. They are a good source of antioxidants and are rich in vitamins A, C, K, and B8, as well as minerals including pantothenic acid, folate, potassium, iron, copper, and manganese.

The green tops can be eaten, too. The contain six times more vitamin C than the root and are a good source of potassium and calcium. They can be eaten in a salad but can be bitter so are often preferred sautéed in butter with garlic and other greens or used in stock.

How to grow

Carrots thrive in a sunny spot in well drained, stone-free, slightly acidic soil that is light and fertile. Heavy or stony soils can result in stunted or misshapen roots (forked) as the roots try and grow around the obstacle. If you have exceptionally stony soil either choose short rooted varieties or grow them in pots.

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Carrots can also be grown in containers and even window boxes providing that there is a depth of 20cm or more.

As a member of the umbellifer family carrots need warmth so if you have to wait a few weeks more for the better weather, it’s worth doing so.

When it’s time to plant sow seeds 2cm deep in fine soil that is weed-free. It is a good idea to simply lay a hoe or beanpole down on the soil and push it down gently to make a drill.

The seeds are small but sow as finely as you can to make it easier to thin them out later. Cover gently to avoid moving them and water. Sow successionally every two weeks or so up until the end of August to extend the harvest.

Thin seedlings in drills to 10cm apart with rows 30cm apart. Keep free of weeds and water in dry spells.

Carrots can be left in the ground until needed but will be ready to harvest from around 12 -16 weeks after sowing. They store and freeze well but taste best when just picked.

Carrot fly

This small black-bodied fly has larvae that tunnel into carrots and lead to rot.

Female flies are attracted by the smell of just pulled carrots and foliage that has been crushed so sow as thinly as you can to minimise moving the seedlings too much at a later stage.

When the carrots are full grown, harvest carrots in the early evening when the pests are less active and make sure to earth up the carrots remaining in the soil to minimise their scent.

Happily, carrot flies are not actually terribly good at flying so pegging horticultural fleece over the crop or making a mini-fence about 60cm high of very fine netting, fleece or plastic wrapped around short posts will deter them.

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Alternatively, you may prefer to grow fly resistant varieties such as Flyaway. As a belt and braces approach, grow the resistant variety alongside a non-resistant variety which can act as a sacrifice crop, as the flies will favour this to the resistant one.

The aromatic leaves of chives, spring onions, garlic, leeks and mint are known to deter carrot fly which makes them perfect growing companions to carrots. The scent of the carrots is overpowered  so the flies do not strike.

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This article first appeared in Smallholder magazine. If you would like to read more like this subscribe to the magazine or buy it from your local newsagent.