Carrot varieties are described as early or main crop varieties, but also either short-root or long-root varieties. These names give you an idea of when they will crop and the type of soil they’re suitable for. Carrots and parsnips grow best in light, sandy soil so if your soil is heavy clay, stony, chalky or doesn’t drain particularly well, concentrate on the main crop, short-root types which cope better with these conditions.
Early carrot varieties take around 12 weeks to mature and main crop carrot varieties are ready in around 16 weeks. Main crops take up the most space in the garden, but they tend to be the best varieties to grow if you want some for storage.
What to do
- Success with root vegetables is very much down to the quality of the soil that they’re grown in, so it’s worth taking the time to prepare your patch. Start digging over your soil in late winter or early spring, removing any stones you find and thoroughly turning the soil until it has a fine, crumbly texture.
- If your soil is not ideally suitable for carrots or parsnips, you can prepare a large container for sowing instead. When digging over your soil, do not add manure as this makes the soil too rich for the seeds.
- One week before sowing your seeds, rake in a light dressing of general fertiliser.
How to sow seeds
- Carrot seeds are small, but it’s wise to plant them as thinly as possible. This reduces the amount of thinning necessary and potential risk from pests.
- Sow the seeds thinly on a sunny, dry day in shallow drills around 2-3cm (1in) deep, covering the seeds once in place. Early sowings in March and April may need to be protected with fleece or a cloche in some parts of the country. If you have difficulty sowing thinly, try mixing the seeds with a handful of sharp sand and then sowing the seeds and sand together. The sand will aid drainage and will allow thinner sowing.
- Once the seeds have germinated and are showing their first rough leaves, thin the seedlings to 5cm (2 in) between plants.
- Parsnips can be grown in a similar way, but as they’re larger they should be thinned to 15cm (6 in)
- The plants need little other attention during their growth period, although the plants should be kept well watered – too little water results in coarse, woody roots.
Harvesting and storage
- From June to July onwards, start pulling up your carrots as soon as they’re big enough to eat. It’s best to harvest them in the evening to avoid attracting carrot fly.
- Late-sown carrots must be lifted by October to be stored over the winter.
- Store only the best, undamaged roots, cutting off their foliage and lie the roots between layers of sand in a strong box, ensuring that the roots do not touch. Store the box somewhere cool and dry, and check the carrots occasionally, removing any odd rotten roots before they infect their neighbours.
One of the main threats to your carrot crop comes from carrot fly. This pest is drawn to the carrots by the smell of crushed foliage, so reduce the risk of an attack by thinning plants in the evening on a still day, removing any thinnings and watering afterwards. Carrot fly are also low-flying insects: erecting a ‘wind-break’ style shield around a crop will also help deter these pests.
Five to try
- ‘Autumn King 2’ – heavy cropping and well flavoured
- ‘Flyaway’ – both juicy flavoured and resistant to carrot fly
- ‘Mignon’ – baby-sized, good for pots
- ‘Nantes 3 Tiptop’ – sweet flavour and no core
- ‘Parmex’ – round-rooted, good for growing in containers