Cultivation of the Carrot

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Growing in your own Garden

There is something very satisfying about growing your own carrots. For a start it is very easy to have a supply of carrots for at least nine months of the year and even longer with a bit of luck and good management.

You will be pleasantly surprised by the flavour of home grown carrots. They might not be as unblemished as those supermarket types but they have a flavour that many modern mass market carrots seem to have lost. It should be no surprise that carrots are the second most popular vegetable in England after potatoes. The average person eats 13lbs a year. If more people realised the true nutritional value they would eat double this amount. Find out about the nutritional values by clicking here.

Golf ball-type carrots (Thumbelina) and the slightly longer Chantenays are good for containers and heavy soils. Short carrots also mature faster, shaving two weeks off the time it takes to put them on the table. Nantes, Imperator and Danvers (and Danvers Half Long) grow up to 7 inches long and are suitable for most other soils. If colour is an issue, Danvers Half Long and Royal Chantenay are bright orange, while Scarlet Nantes and Blaze (an Imperator) are deep orange, almost red.

Photo courtesy of Philip Rose from his set of delicious desktops -
click here to see more.
Philip is a science presenter and organiser of science holiday schools for children.  You can find out more about that at his website.

For excellent growing advice watch this video from the Royal Horticultural Society HERE


Watch some simple instructional videos from the Gardeners World Net - click on photo to learn more.

The carrot is a cool climate crop and can be sown early in the Spring in temperate climates, or in the autumn or winter in sub-tropical areas. The carrot plant is biennial, that is one which completes its life cycle in two years.  It stores in the first year what it is going to use in its second to produce seed. We interrupt its life cycle by gobbling it up in the first year before it has time to reach maturity. In the firsdiagrammatical picture of seedt year the plant produces the fleshy orange tap root which is eaten. If left in the ground the plant will flower the following spring.  Read more about how carrots flower and produce seed here.

The carrot's fruit is an akene, (a dry indehiscent, one-seeded fruit, formed from a single carpel and with the seed distinct from the fruit wall.) and holds thorns that allows it to remain on the plant during ripening. So called seeds derived from plants in the carrot family are not actually seeds at all, but rather complete fruits that are dried. These include anise, caraway, coriander, dill and fennel.

Carrots fall naturally into groups according to their use, to see photos of some of these varieties click here.   For the A to Z of common varieties click here.

Fast maturing varieties: bred for forcing in cold frames or under cloches. The Amsterdam and Nantes types are shorter than main crop carrot and cylindrical rather than tapered, try Bolero and Ingot.

Stump Root Varieties: such as Early French Frame, these together with the fast maturing varieties often possess good flavour and can be frozen whole. stubby carrots

For tiny gardens and window boxes: try a round sort such as Rondo or Suko. Carrots do well in containers. Choose pots that are at least 12 inches deep and have good drainage. Use potting soil enriched with compost and keep the soil moist. For best results, look for small or "baby" varieties such as Thumbelina, Orbit, Parmex, Oxheart or Little Finger.

Traditional Summer Carrots: these have the prefix Chantenay which are short and squat with a pronounced taper.

For eating over Winter: one of the best in Autumn King, with a good flavour and long tapered roots, Long Red Surrey, first introduced in 1834, has to be one of tastiest varieties as it has a distinctive yellow core, it is out of favour with commercial growers but well worth growing.
James Scarlet Intermediate is another older main crop (1870) and well worth the try.

The healthiest Carrot? It's got to be Juwarot containing almost twice the carotene of any other carrot. High carotene carrots you can grow are 'Ingot' (particularly sweet flavour), 'Beta Champ' (great for juicing) and 'Healthmaster' (slow to grow but again quite sweet). Some high carotene carrots also tend to be high in turpenoids which can make some carrots strong tasting and bitter.

If you are allergic to carotene sow White Fodder and you will not be disappointed.

Companion Planting - Carrots do well alongside most plants, especially chives, Rosemary and Sage (which deter Carrot Fly). Dill, Coriander and other members of the Umbelliferae family should not be planted near carrots as they tend to cross pollinate which can be important if you are subsequently trying to save your own seed.

How do carrots produce seeds ?

Carrots are so called biennial plants and only flower every two years. In the first year the plant produces the edible root and a leafy top. If a carrot plant is left in the ground for another year, it flowers and seeds are produced.

Sexual reproduction in carrots is therefore not different from other flowering plants. Pollen is produced and transferred to the female part of the flower, the stigma. The pollen grain then delivers the sperm cells within it to the ovary via a long tube where fertilisation takes place.

The seeds are tiny - a teaspoon can hold almost 2000!
The birds-nest-shaped fruit cluster of carrot has a remarkable mechanism for seed dispersal. The stalks are hygroscopic, so that when conditions are dry and suitable for seed dispersal they bend outward, exposing the fruits to wind and animals; when conditions are wet, they bend inwards, forming the familiar bird’s nest structure, which protects the seeds.

 Read more about how carrots flower and produce seed here.

  carrot sead head

Factors Affecting the Colour of Carrots

1. Temperatures above and below the optimum (above 70° and below 60°F) reduce the colour of carrots.

2. Spring and summer carrots are often of better colour than autumn and winter.

3. Carrots grown on sandy soils and soils high in organic matter produce a higher colour than did carrots on silt loams.

4. Excessive water decreases the colour.

5. Reducing the number of daylight hours has reduced the colour.

Colour is more intense in the older portions of the root. It decreases from the epidermis and center toward the cambium, and from the top to the bottom.

Carrots can taste soapy - Two ingredients determine a carrot's flavour: sugars and terpenoids (volatile compounds that impart the carrot flavour). Some varieties are naturally high in terpenoids, which make the carrots taste bitter or soapy. Because terpenoids develop earlier than sugars, a carrot that is harvested too young might taste bitter.

The taste in carrots is based on the right balance of sugars and terpenoids. Terpenoids produce a soapy turpentine-like taste that will mask sweetness. Differences in flavour components have been found to be attributable more to genetics than to climatic conditions; however, the controversy continues. Volatiles can also increase during cold storage (around -1C) which is a common practice (even for organics!)

Many different terpenes in carrot can cause a turpentine-like taste. Usually terpenes give a desirable taste to carrots, but in high concentrations can give undesirable taste. Factors influencing undesirable taste include genetics, growing conditions, diseases and insects, post-harvest handling and storage atmosphere.

Storing carrots near apples or other fruits that manufacture ethylene gas as they ripen, encourages the development of terpenoids in the vegetable and causing them to become bitter when exposed to ethylene.
Raw carrots will taste more soapy than cooked ones, as cooking breaks down the terpenoids allowing the sweetness to come through.
The Nantes variety produces roots which have higher sugar content, lower in terpenoids and less suitable for long-term storage.

How to get a good crop. pop up carrot

Carrots prefer light sandy soils so if your garden earth is on the light side you will have no problem. If you garden on clay or stony land then your carrots will always struggle. You will not fail so long as you are careful which varieties you choose - round or stumpy rooted types will succeed practically anywhere, whereas long rooted, tapering types will faulter. Carrots do well in containers. Choose pots which are at least 12 inches deep and give them good drainage. Use potting compost and keep them moist at all times. For best results try small varieties such as Parmex, Oxheart of Little Finger.

Maintenancecarrot pointer

The first few weeks after sowing determine the size of your crop. Carrots do not tolerate a deep planting in a dry bed, so the trick is to offer them a shallow sowing with even moisture. The seedlings grow slowly and can't compete with weeds. As they develop top dress with old manure or compost, avoid "hot" nitrogen sources like fresh manure and fish fertilizer as they cause new roots to "burn off" and fork.

Hand weeding is recommended until the carrots are 5cm tall. Thin the carrots to 8cm apart, then mulch with clean straw and compost to keep the weeds at bay.

Mulching also helps the soil retain moisture and prevents "green shoulder," which is caused by exposing the crowns of the carrots to the sun, making the roots bitter. If the tops of your carrot roots start to turn green, pull the soil up around them. Over watering your carrots can cause the roots to crack.

Harvesting more healthy carrots

Most carrots can be harvested in less than three months. they can be picked anytime they reach a usable size. The largest carrots will have the darkest, greenest tops, but don't leave the roots in the ground too long or they will be tough. Most are at their prime when about 2.5cm in diameter at the crown.

Do not be fooled by the tops which can be quite bushy but in fact the carrots themselves are quite small. When harvesting, drench the bed with water first, making the carrots easier to pull.

When you find a carrot large enough, grasp the greens at the crown and tug gently with a twisting motion. If the greens snap off, carefully lift the roots with a small fork. Use damaged roots right away and store unblemished ones.

Lifted carrot should not be left on the ground surface for too long as they will attract the attention of carrot fly. Cut the leaves off as soon as they are out of the ground; as long as they are attached they continue to keep growing and draw moisture and nourishment from the roots.

Annual Calendar for Carrots

Spring: Sow seeds in February for a forced crop under cloches of cold frame. March April Sow your next crop of  Amsterdam Forcing seed outside protected by garden fleece in colder areas. These will be well on the way to maturity as your first crop finishes. recommended varieties Thumbelina, Suko and Baby Sweet.

Summer: June/July Harvest forced types sow late main crops in lighter soil. Crop varieties like Chantenay Red Cored which were sown in March mature in August/September. Recommended varieties King Midas (Imperator type), Kurodo (chantenay), and Nelson nantes type).

Autumn: August/September harvest early unprotected crops. October/November lift and store main crop types on heavier soil. Dig seed beds, remove any stones sow a crop of a forcing variety and protect under a cloche over winter. Recommended varieties: Juwarot and Fly away (nantes types) and Imperial Chantenay and Red Cored which are chantenay types.

Winter: December/January on lighter soil later main crop types can be left in the ground and lifted as needed throughout the period. If the weather is really cold or wet, protect with a covering of straw in early December.

Recommended varieties: Artist and Merida (nantes types) and Camberley and Scarlet Keeper (danvers types).

Easy Guide

1. Preparation 2. Sow the seeds
A good mulch of leaf mould applied in autumn is ideal preparation for growing carrots, helping to create the fine seed bed they need.

They do not require much feeding. Land that has been composted or manured for a previous crop is preferred.

These should be sown as thinly as possible 12-20mm deep in rows 150mm apart Space early varieties 100mm apart so they can grow quickly; 50mm apart for main crops. If your soil does not easily turn into a fine seed bed you may find that covering the seed with a mix of sand and leaf mould does wonders for emergence.
3. Germination 4. Maintenance
This takes about 10 to 12 days depending on soil temperature. You can speed things up by buying primed seed in which the germination process has been initiated by the seedsman. Soon after they have emerged cover ,with a fine mesh netting and leave in place for the entire crop. This will let in light, air and water but keep pests at bay. Keep the seedlings warm and moist. Keep weeds control. Thin to 5 cm apart. Keep watering - but too much. Harvest when the top of the carrot is 2-5cm in diameter.
There is no need to harvest all at the same time. Remove tops before storing. Wash and keep carrots in the fridge in airtight bags to retain moisture.

Here is a guide to common problems:

The Problem Possible Cause Action
Carrot twist around each other Plants too close together. Thin carrots to 2 inches apart when they are small.
Carrots rotted or have large white "eyes". Overwatering. Water less frequently. Do not plant the carrots in heavy soil.
White growth on leaves. Powdery mildew. Use fungicide if extensive damage. Sulphur may help.
Thin spindly growth. Competition from weeds/other plants. Control the opposition.
Rotted roots. White fungus on soil surface and on root. Small brown oval honey coloured sclerotia in fungal growth. Southern blight of white mould. Caused by Sclerotium rolfsii. Avoid planting in infested soil. Nitrogen rich fertiliser may help.
Roots with surface tunnels filled with rusty mush. Stiff white maggots visible but nothing apparent above ground. Carrot root fly. Lays its eggs in the crown of carrots. Peel off damaged area before using. Harvest carrots as soon as possible. Do not store carrots in ground through winter. Use a soil insecticide to control maggots at planting.
Roots hairy, forked or mis-shaped. Root knot nematode. Overwatering, roots in contact with fertiliser pellets or fresh manure. Hard soil or rocks. Overcrowding. Rotate. Remove rocks. Thin carrots early.
Carrots fail to emerge. Soil crusting. Soil temperature too high. Seedling pests. Maintain uniform soil temperature and moisture until seedlings appear. Do not plant too deeply.
Yellowed, curled leaves. Stunted plants. Leafhoppers. Use insecticidal soap.
Brown spots on leaves or roots. Leaf blight. Avoid planting in infested soil. Nitrogen fertiliser could help.
Tiny holes on leaves. Flea beetles. Control weeds. Use rotenone with insecticidal soap.
Inner leaves yellowed; outer leaves reddish purple, roots stunted and bitter. Aster yellows (mycoplasma disease). Remove affected plants. Control weeds. Use insecticide.
Green root tops. Roots exposed to sunlight. Cover exposed roots with soil or mulch.
All top and no roots Planted too close together. Excessive nitrogen. Thin out early. Go easy on the fertiliser

Storage Methods

Thick cored carrots store the best.

1. Indoors

2. Outdoors

3. Leave in the ground

4. Home Freezing

For home freezing, the best way to blanch carrots is in boiling water. Use a blancher with a basket and cover, or fit a wire basket into a large kettle with a lid.

Use one gallon of water per pound of prepared vegetable. Using these proportions, the water should continue to boil when vegetables are lowered into the water. Put the carrots in the blanching basket and lower into vigorously boiling water. Place a lid on the blancher. Start counting blanching time as soon as the water returns to a boil. Time for whole Carrots is minimum of 5 minutes.

Keep the heat high so that water continues to boil throughout the blanching process. Select young, tender, coreless, medium length carrots. Remove tops, wash and peel. Leave small carrots whole. Cut others into thin slices, ¼-inch cubes or lengthwise strips.

Water blanch small whole carrots for 5 minutes, diced or sliced 2 minutes and lengthwise strips take 2 minutes.

Cool promptly, drain and place in plastic containers, leaving ½-inch head space. Seal and freeze.

Research has shown that microwave blanching is not always an effective method, as some enzymes may not be inactivated. This could result in low-quality frozen vegetables with off-colours, off-flavours and poor texture. If blanching is done in a microwave oven, follow individual manufacturer's instructions. Microwave blanching does not save time or energy.

5. How to dry carrots

Carrots are incredibly easy to dry! Simply top & tail the carrots & then wash & peel. Chop the carrots into 2-4mm slices and then place on the trays of your Ezidri, making sure the pieces aren't touching. Dehydrate at 55 deg C (Snackmaker - Medium) for 10 hours. You can also choose to grate your carrots & create your own dehydrated carrot flakes. These should take between 6 & 10 hours to dry, and should be placed on Mesh Sheets. Carrots are 88% water so they will reduce in size considerably.

You may want to condense the trays a few hours into the drying process. When ready, the carrots should be crisp to the touch with no visible signs of moisture. Dried carrots can be used directly in recipes where they will absorb a lot of water. Another great idea is to place the dried carrot pieces into a food processor and make into a fine powder which is delicious in soups, casseroles, drinks & more. Included in this section is several recipes which make use of Carrot powder - make sure you check them out! To store your carrot pieces, flakes or powder, place in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark place.

See photos of common varieties supplied by Thompson and Morgan the leading seed suppliers in the US and UK. Click here.

Thompson & Morgan have a tremendous variety of carrot seeds for you to try, some links below give more detail, or click on the banner.wavy carrot


Any seeds bought via the above links makes a small a contribution to the upkeep of the World Carrot Museum.

Some Other Sources of Carrot Varieties for United States Home Gardeners

William Rubel gives a detailed commentary on the main online catalogues.

Try a new approach to seed supply - buy only what you need!  great for trials - Seeds UK.

The next page gives an in depth guide into carrot cultivation. This includes details on the best types of soil, cropping information. There is analysis of the number one pest - the carrot fly, categories of pests and diseases and the detailed classification of carrot types.

Check out articles of an anecdotal, humorous and gardening kind at this splendid web site - Garden Blethers from the Scottish Highlands. A serious look at the 'not so serious' aspects of gardening life (with the occasional serious 'bit' thrown in!) Click here to go there.

Need advice? try Organic Vegetable Gardening (uk), one of the best vegetable advisory websites in the UK. Their aim is to help gardeners grow their own fresh, tasty vegetables and fruit using dedicated growing guides,  and to give advice from fellow gardeners in a friendly forum.

To see an explanation of the various parts of the carrot root, including diagram click here.


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