Despite being inexpensive to buy in the supermarket, one of my favourite and most anticipated harvests in our little kitchen garden are the carrots. Homegrown roots are so much crisper and sweeter than those that have languished in plastic on the shelves and, with a bit of preparation, can crop in the garden for most of the year.
Although we currently have shortening days and colder nights, I’m still pulling carrots on an almost daily basis. We sow our seeds – changing the varieties depending on the time of year – from early spring through to late summer. At the moment, we’re harvesting Autumn King and they are delicious!
This is also the time of year where we start to prepare for next year’s harvests: after deciding which raised bed will house our carrots next year, we top the bed up with its annual addition of compost as well as a little added sharp sand. It’s worth remembering that although free-draining soil is great for ensuring longer, straighter roots, it can also mean that the soil won’t retain as much water so you will need to watch out for any prolonged dry spells later in the year. After the bed has been topped up, we then cover it with fleece weighted down with stones and leave it this way until early spring.
As the raised bed has been covered with fleece all winter, it will heat up a little quicker come spring. This means that carrot seeds will in turn germinate a little quicker and will have a head start once we start to see an increase in those precious minutes and hours of daylight. In late February, we sow an ‘early’ variety of carrot such as Early Nantes. A word of caution: they will be slow growing but once the days start to heat up in late spring, they’ll really take off. Normally with a late February sowing, we have our first harvest of carrots in late May/early June.
In our garden, we never really have huge harvests but rather pick our food on a daily, as-we-need-it basis. As such, we don’t just sow lots of seeds in February and then wait for harvest time; instead, we successionally sow our carrots every 3 weeks or so throughout the growing season to give us a continual supply. This late February sowing is just a little early bonus!
My top tip: sow thinly. Although you can always thin your carrots (which might attract carrot fly), it’s a bit of a waste. Try to get in to the habit of sowing sparingly giving each seed enough space to grow and develop. It’s always a worry that some might not germinate but this has rarely been a problem for me with carrots and if it is, I just fill in the gaps after the rest have germinated and pull those ones last.
This tends to be when we grow the bulk of our carrots because the days are longer and warmer and the seedlings will really thrive. This year we enjoyed Rainbow F1 for the first time as well as old favourites such as Sugarsnax and Romance. We also always grow a carrot fly resistant variety which we tend to dot around our other crops wherever we can squeeze them in and this year it was Resistafly F1. Although I always worry that we’re perhaps going to have to compromise on taste when it comes to ‘pest-resistant’ varieties but it really isn’t the case with these ones – they were lovely.
Late Summer/Early Autumn
Although our last sowing in the raised beds was in late July, we’ve also sown some Autumn King and Little Fingers in containers in early August in the hopes of harvesting them for Christmas. They’re in containers so that they can be moved if necessary to ensure they have as much light as possible (and can also be moved in to the greenhouse too if needed). Although this is a bit of a faff, the excitement at the prospect of freshly pulled winter carrots is keeping me going! This isn’t our first time growing in containers but it is our first late sowing so fingers crossed we’re having freshly pulled roots with Christmas dinner. If not, at least we’ll still have some of our stored Autumn Kings.