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How to grow healthy carrots on small space

Mary Nyambura washing her Carrots at Mauche area in Njoro sub-county [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Carrot is emerging as a popular vegetable due to its short maturing nature, its nutritive content and its attractive market prices. Growing this crop is easy all that it requires are optimal growing conditions. The crop thrives in a wide range of climatic conditions, although it is cultivated as a cool season crop and so temperatures of 160-240C are ideal. Soil temperatures more than 240C reduces root quality and colour.

The crop thrives in soil pH of 6.5-7.5. The soil should be free draining with enough potassium to improve the sweet taste and its solid nature. Avoid soils with excess nitrogen because the resultant crop will be branched or fork like, fibrous and hairy.

Planting

Carrots do not like being transplanted, so it’s best to sow them directly where they are to grow. Remove all stones from the soil because if a carrot root hits a stone it will fork. Prepare the soil to a fine tilth 2.5kgs will be required to plant an acre. Seeds are small and so they are mixed with sand to help them spread. Sow the seeds mixed with sand, 1/2 - 1 cm deep in drills 10-15 cm apart in finely prepared soils. Plant them on ridges to facilitate mechanical weeding, thinning, and to limit soil borne diseases. Ridges will also allow easier penetration by the carrot root and will also improve water holding capacity. Seedlings are thinned to 5-8 cm in the rows. The common varieties are chantley, nantes and oxheart. Nantes is preferred by farmers because of its good growing characteristics and the extended shelf life after harvesting. Once you’re done, label the row with the variety and date.

Carrot flies

Any clumps of seedlings can be thinned out as necessary by carefully pulling any excess out. This can, however, dislodge the roots of neighbouring seedlings, so alternatively you can use scissors to snip off the foliage instead. Do this on a still day to prevent the carrot smell alerting nearby carrot flies. Sometimes carrots can run to seed (bolt) before they’ve had a chance to form their roots. Keep the soil moist in dry weather to help avoid this, and regularly remove weeds to minimise competition for available moisture and nutrients.

Mulching

Carrots don’t normally need additional feeding, but occasional mulching with a light-blocking organic mulch will help prevent the tops turning green. Watch out for pests such as aphids, nematodes and cutworms. Fungal diseases such as powdery mildew and leaf blight. Control measures include crop rotation, field sanitation, planting certified seeds and selection of disease resistant seed varieties.

Carrots are mostly harvested manually by pulling up the roots at the leaves as long as the soil is moist and soft. If the soil has dried, it will be necessary to use either a spade or similar tool to loosen soil and harvest the roots. Carrots are usually ready for harvesting 60-85 days after sowing. Mature roots should be orange-coloured internally down to the blunt tip. 

Marketing

A good market price can be fetched from young carrots with a fresh top, but leaving the top on dries out the root quickly and reduces the marketing period of the crop. An alternative is to trim the top back to about 2 cm and package attractively. 

Storage

For mature carrots the tops are trimmed down completely to avoid storage rots before marketing. Carrots can remain in good condition for 100-150 days when the foliage is removed and they are stored at 1-40 C with 95-100 per cent relative humidity.

Carrots should be stored separately from other vegetables to prevent a bitter flavour induced by ethylene. Generally, carrots store better when they are mature and harvested under moist conditions, and undamaged and free of diseases and pests.

[The writer is an expert on sustainable agriculture and agricultural solutions]


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