7 tips for growing sweet carrots
Carrots are one of the easiest vegetables to grow.
Words: Jane Wrigglesworth
1. You can go for a rainbow of different coloured carrot varieties if orange isn’t your thing, but the trick to making any of them sweet and succulent is optimal growing conditions.
2. Plants thrive in light, fertile, free-draining soil. Dig it over to at least 20cm and remove any stones or bark as these will cause forked roots. Fresh manure also causes carrots to fork. A generous helping of aged compost provides the nutrients they need.
3. The flavour of carrots is affected by the climate. They are at their sweetest if they grow when the days are warm and the nights are fairly cool. Thie means spring and autumn sowings are the ideal. Sow seed directly in the ground when the soil has warmed up to around 7°C, the minimum temperature required for germination. Higher temperatures will see them germinate faster. Late September (or October in cooler areas) is around the time they start to take off.
4. Carrot seeds are miniscule. There are about 2000 in a teaspoon, making it difficult to sow accurately – you’ll always sow more seeds than you need. This is why it’s necessary to thin your plants while they’re still small to give the best ones enough room to develop their roots.
5. Alternatively, you can use seed tape, which has seeds embedded in a biodegradable tape. Snip off the length you want, place the tape in a shallow trench and cover with soil. The seeds are spaced 1-1.25cm apart; plants will still need thinning to around 5cm, but far less than when sowing by hand. You also end up with nice straight lines.
6. Feeding is not necessary if the soil has enough organic material in it. Provide ample water while the roots are developing.
7. Carrot flies are about between September and May, laying eggs in the soil beside your carrot patch. The eggs hatch in 7-14 days and the small larvae will make a beeline for your carrots. If your vegetable garden is prone to carrot fly, the best way to deter them is to cover your crop with a porous cloth that lets in air and water but keeps out bugs. Make sure there are no gaps along the ground to stop flies crawling under it.
8. Picking too early may mean bitter, soapy-tasting roots. As carrots grow, they develop terpenoids which are what give carrots their flavour. The sugars develop later on and are stored in the root. Pick too early and you’ll be eating the terpenoids, without the sugars.
JANE’S TIPS FOR THE PERFECT PICK
The best time to pick carrots is late afternoon. This gets them at their sweetest because the plant has spent the day manufacturing sugars through photosynthesis.
Don’t leave your carrots in the ground for too long after maturity. Sugars begin to convert to starch and the flavour of your carrots will diminish.