Gardens - Fruit & Vegetable Gardening

Growing carrots

Patrick Lima
Photography by
Roger Yip

Homegrown carrots are a down-to-earth, toothsome treat full of nutrients and great taste

As a carrot seed germinates, it sends a questing taproot down into the ground in search of water and nutrients. The best roots grow in soil that’s well broken up and free of clay clods and stones; soil texture is more important than fertility. Light loam supplied with sifted compost will yield long, clean, straight carrots. In heavier soil, roots will be shorter, rough around the edges, caked with clay and possibly twisted.

In any garden, a raised bed—an area of ground from 30 to 45 centimetres wide, with loose earth down to a depth of 15 to 25 centimetres—is an excellent idea for carrots. Use the corner of a rake, trowel handle or your finger to open a shallow furrow about one centimetre deep along the length of the bed. Side-by-side furrows, 10 to 15 centimetres apart, form an intensively planted bed—a solid sheet of feathery green tops by midsummer—and give you a lot of carrots from a limited space.  Cover seeds with one centimetre of fine soil or sifted compost; where clay abounds, a covering of sand is easier for the fragile carrot sprouts to push through.

Once seeds germinate, there may be another hurdle or two. Delicate and slow to grow, showing just a few wispy leaves for what seems like weeks, carrot seedlings are a favourite forage (along with beets and Swiss chard) for earwigs. Like vampires, earwigs hide from the sun by day and emerge to feed at night. The best defence is to plant seeds early, when daffodils are in bloom or about three weeks before spring’s frost-free date. Seedlings will be up and on their way before the year’s batch of earwigs hatch. If damage does occur, a soap solution, either insecticidal soap or five milli-litres of dishwashing liquid in a one-litre spray bottle, dispatches earwigs quickly. But you have to hit the beasties directly, so it’s out into the garden with flashlight and spray bottle sometime after dark. The good news is you probably only have to spray two or three times over the first couple of weeks to clear things up.

Thinning carrots makes all the difference in their eventual size and shape. Aiming for a final distance of between four and six centimetres, thin carrots gradually as they grow. And since you’re down at ground level anyway, why not pull weeds at the same time? Young carrots are delicious cooked whole, while roots approaching full size are a treat pulled, hosed down and munched in the garden. Whereas peas rush past small and sweet to big and starchy, and zucchinis balloon into blimps overnight, carrots store themselves in the ground until you’re ready for them. Colour is a good mark of maturity: pale roots tend to taste insipid, but the brighter the orange, the more flavourful and nutritious the carrot will be.

Start your carrots early
Early sowing may put carrot seeds into earth that’s too cool for good germination. To warm soil, use a floating row cover, a sheer garden fabric (spun polyester) that is draped over a seeded bed and weighed down with handfuls of soil or small rocks. As carrot tops grow, they push against the fabric, causing it to rise and billow lightly overhead. As a bonus, floating row covers keep out the carrot rust fly, a potentially serious pest whose burrowing larvae tunnel into carrot roots, leaving rust-coloured fissures in their wake. You’ll still have to check under the cloth for earwig damage and pull it aside when (or if) the time comes to spray.

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