Originally from Afghanistan and purple in colour, Carrots were grown for their aromatic leaves and seeds rather than their roots. The leaves and seeds were used in a similar manner to that of their relatives such as parsley, fennel and dill. In Europe in the 8th century, red and yellow carrots were known. Then the Dutch bred the orange variety in the 17th century and increased the sweetness. Now readily available in rainbow colours, but the purple ones have the most flavour, as even the mice eat them first!
Health Benefits. Contain beta-carotene, carotenoids.
Be very aware that ordinary non-organic commercial Shop carrots have been doused in dangerous pesticides during their cultivation on a farm, to protect them against carrot root fly, and should always be peeled or scraped before eating. It is only when you start to grow carrots without any protection, that you realise how unnaturally perfect the shop carrots are.
Easy and reliable to grow, provided that you net against the Carrot root fly, Best sown when the soil is warm enough in April or May in situ in deep, friable soil, in narrow drills and kept moist while germinating. The seed should be sown thinly 1 cm deep, with rows 15 cm apart. Later thin the seedlings to 2 cm apart. You will have to hand weed the drills while the seedlings are small to prevent them being smothered. This is not my favourite task, but is made easier to do if you kneel on a soft mat. Eat any thinning’s, like those in the photo on the LHS, in early salads. Remember to fill in the holes formed when you take out the thinnings to prevent easy access to the carrot fly.
Pests and diseases.
The carrot root fly (Psila rosae) is the devastating number one pest for carrots, but can also affect parsnips, parsley and celery. The carrot root flies lay their eggs on the growing carrots, and the legless larvae then feed and burrow into the outer part of the carrot root. In extreme cases the foliage can wilt and become discoloured, with dark brown tunnels visible on the outside of the carrot. The larvae can over winter in carrots left in the ground to start the cycle of attacks the following year. The first major attack is usually in the May/June period, with further attacks in the Autumn.
Barrier methods are the best way of defeating the carrot root fly from reaching your carrots. One way is to cover your carrot bed using a very fine mesh net fabric, or a floating mesh, as shown on the LHS photo with the mesh pulled back for illustration. An alternative method is to erect a barrier around the crop about 60 cm high. Apparently, carrot flies fly below this height (not sure what happens in a wind!) and are not likely to attack your carrots. This barrier can be made solid, such as with timber. Some plotters grow their carrots in the top of old dustbins, again effectively some 60 cm above ground.
Smell masking method. Sowing rows of carrots alternating with rows of onions, seems to provide a little protection against Carrot root fly by masking the smell of the carrots and confusing the carrot fly.
Carrots claimed to have carrot fly resistance. Some modern varieties of carrots are claimed to have some resistance to carrot fly attack. I think that it is advisable to back this up with another method such as previously described.
Whichever method you decide to use, you need to put it into effect immediately you have sown your carrots, as even the seeds have a strong scent and will attract the carrot flies.
Rabbits. Yes, rabbits seem to be making a comeback and can cause an immense amount of damage to crops. Suitable protective fencing is the only effective defence.
Mice and Voles. They often attack carrots in the late Autumn. Set traps for them or use poison pellets.
Early Nantes.(2, 5, Mars). This is a small early, salad variety which can be “forced” under cloches.
Aneta. Good sweet baby carrot or can be left to grow on to 14 cm long.
Mignon. Short, sweet, smooth skinned.
Sugar Snax FI. This is a sweet mid-season carrot, which can grow to about 8 cm in suitable soil.
Autumn King. A reliable late season carrot, which also stores well.
For short term storage for 2 or 3 weeks, place in the fridge crispator.
For long term storage, wash and cut the carrots into segments before placing them in a freezer. The texture will be a bit “flabby” when defrosted, but the carrots can be used for soups, stews or mince.
Storing outdoors in bins. This is the traditional method for storing carrots over the Winter until Spring, and has the advantage that the carrots retain their crisp texture.
Lift and wash your undamaged carrots, twisting off the green top leaves. Store them in layers, separated with moist sand or peat, in a strong container such as a bucket. Make sure that there is a secure lid, otherwise the mice will help themselves to your carrots. Place your container in the coldest part of the garden or plot, out of the sun, to delay the carrots starting into growth in the Spring.
Carrot tops are also nutritious (vitamins A, B6, C, K, folate, manganese, thiamin, potassium), but tend to taste bitter. As the stems are stringy, strip the freshly picked fronds and mix into a green salad.