Do your carrots look more like stumpy three-legged people than those perfectly straight shop-bought specimens?
Yep, mine too. My problem is that stony, heavy ground that either splits my roots or stunts the growth altogether. There’s nothing more disappointing than spying a fat looking carrot top poking through the soil, only to find the result is nothing more than a nubbin when pulled up.
So, what’s the solution? A quick and easy option is to try growing carrots in containers. I’ve been experimenting with this over the past couple of years, and have just harvested the first of my July sown Autumn King.
My favourite type of carrot container is the old recycling boxes that my local Council dispose of from time to time. They’re 40cm wide, 35cm deep and 50cm long, and already have a few holes pre-drilled in the bottom for drainage. These containers are good for the bigger, maincrop carrots such as Autumn King.
Short or round salad carrots like Parmex or Early Nantes can be grown in shallower containers. I’ve used window box planters and other vessels of similar dimensions, as well as florist buckets. Last Spring I had a very productive harvest of little, sweet Early Scarlet Horn from a wooden planter which was only 15cm deep.
My most successful soil for container carrots has been a mix of cheap Wickes peat-free multipurpose compost and some leaf mould. Carrots like the soil light, and I’ve found this to be a good growing medium. The compost isn’t of great quality, but the leaf mould adds a gentle improver and helps retain moisture.
That said, container soil does dry out quicker than normal, so make sure you water regularly. I’ve found that carrots dehydrate if the soil is left to go too dry.
When sowing, I sprinkle plenty of seeds on the surface of the soil before covering with more soil so they are about an inch deep. I don’t scrimp with carrot seeds, as there are thousands in a packet and you can pick up free or very cheap carrot seeds all over the place in Springtime. Magazines are always giving them away, and many retailers sell packets for less than a quid.
I don’t bother with rows in containers, but I do try and get an even spread of seeds. I don’t thin the seedlings, but this is more through laziness than any wisdom! In theory, thinning gives more space for the carrots to grow big, so if you’re more on the ball than me this could be worth doing.
I harvest a carrot when a rub around the surface shows a good width top. Be gentle when lifting as it is easy to snap a carrot in half if you force the root out of the ground.
Of course, with carrots so cheap in the shops, you might argue that buying soil specifically for growing them a bit of a waste of time, but you can replenish the soil at the end of each year with leaf mould or compost, so this is a one-off purchase.
And for me, there is something very satisfying about mastering carrots. Plucking a long, straight specimen from the ground is a great feeling and for me, hard-won – particularly if your soil is difficult and you’ve had to try something different.