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A-Z of growing healthy carrots

Crop
 

Farmer admire carrots at a demonstration farm [Joseph Muchiri, Standard]

Growing carrots seem simple to any farmer, but without careful consideration, you may end up with a poor crop. I have grown carrots before, the mistake I did is growing them in clay soil. The end result was a stunted crop with short roots. The clay soil prevented the plant roots from going deeper than they should have. By growing carrots on my own, I learned what works and what doesn’t. The following tips would help you to sidestep my failures and give you big and sweet carrots. 

Soil preparation

Success with carrots largely depends on the quality of the soil that they’re grown. So, it’s worth taking the time to prepare your garden.

Start preparing soil early in the season. Remove stones and thoroughly turn the soil until it has a fine, crumbly texture. If the carrot roots can’t easily grow unobstructed, it can lead to stunted and misshapen crops. Avoid fixing the soil with nitrogen-rich material such as manure and fertiliser, which can cause carrots to fork and grow little side roots. Instead, work in old coffee grounds. 

If your ground soil is heavy clay or too rocky, consider planting carrots in a raised bed at least 12 inches deep and filled with airy, loamy soil (not clay or silt). If your soil is not ideally suitable for carrots or parsnips, prepare a large container for sowing instead. When digging over the soil, do not add manure as this makes the soil too rich for the seeds.

Sowing seeds

Carrots need a location that receives full sunlight, though they can tolerate partial shade, too. Carrot seeds are small, but it’s wise to plant them as thinly as possible. This reduces the amount of thinning necessary and the potential risk from pests.

Sow the seeds thinly on a sunny, dry day in shallow drills around two to three cm (one inch) deep. Cover the seeds once in place. If you have difficulty sowing thinly, try mixing the seeds with a handful of sharp sand and then sowing them together. The sand will aid drainage and will allow thinner sowing. Carrots need continuous moisture until they germinate so that their hard seed coating will soften for the emerging sprout. You’ll need to keep the upper inch of soil moist for up to three weeks, or until you see the sprouts. Watch out for the soil forming a hard crust, which creates a barrier for the emerging seeds.

Consider covering the bed with a row cover to help it retain moisture or invest in drip irrigation for consistent watering. Once the seeds have germinated and are showing their first rough leaves, thin the seedlings to five cm (two inches) between plants. The plants need little other attention during their growth period, although they should be kept well-watered. Too little water results in coarse, woody roots. Carrots require potassium, so consider adding some wood ash to your garden bed in your growing space.

Harvesting/Storage

Most carrot varieties take two to four months to mature. You can ensure a long harvest season by staggering plantings every two weeks. Start pulling up your carrots as soon as they’re big enough to eat. It’s best to harvest them in the evening to avoid attracting carrot flies. 

For easier harvesting, use a digging fork to loosen the soil before pulling them up by the foliage. You can stagger the harvest by leaving some carrots in the ground until you want to eat them. Note that carrots are biennial. Biennials in the garden are flowering plants that have a two-year biological cycle.

If you fail to harvest and leave the carrots in the ground, the tops will flower and produce seeds in the next year. Store only the best, undamaged roots, cutting off their foliage.

Place the roots between layers of sand in a strong box, ensuring that the roots do not touch. Store the box in a cool and dry place. Check the carrots occasionally, removing any odd rotten roots before they infect others.

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