When it comes to carrots, it’s not just Peter Rabbit and Bugs Bunny who love this root vegetable.
Each person in the UK eats about 100 carrots every year which explains why they are our second favourite veg.
Growing carrots in your garden is pretty straightforward and can be done for about nine months of the year, and the taste of homegrown will be far better than supermarket offerings.
Plenty. Eating just half a medium sized carrot counts as one of your five-a-day.
Carrots offer fibre which maintains healthy digestion and they can regulate blood sugar levels.
They’re the best source of beta-carotene which the body turns into vitamin A, and that promotes healthy bones and teeth as well as our immune system. Beta-carotene is also an antioxidant which is good for keeping skin elastic.
The sheer act of nurturing the carrot plants through jobs such as weeding and watering them, can boost our cognitive skills. This means we become better at paying attention to a task, following directions and problem solving.
There’s also good evidence to show that being outdoors and connecting with nature is a proven antidote for stress and anxiety.
Preparing the soil for planting by digging and raking will work major muscle groups, burn calories, help balance and coordination, while handling and sowing carrot seeds can improve dexterity and hand-eye coordination.
Growing can not only provide a sense of purpose, but the knowledge that we’re producing something delicious to eat and share is incredibly satisfying.
Get a good crop of carrots by ensuring your growing site has plenty of light, is weed-free and has deep, well-drained soil that isn’t compacted or stony (stones in the soil lead to odd-shape carrots which is fine if you like amusing veg).
To be eating carrots this summer, sow your seed from early spring.
Heavy soil will make it hard for the carrot roots to grow, so pick stump-rooted carrot varieties which won’t suffer from stunted growth.
Use a length of string or a bamboo cane to mark a line in your soil and then make a drill about 1cm deep for the seeds to go in. Water the drill if the soil is dry before sowing the seeds thinly, then cover them up. Ensure your drills are 15cm apart.
Carrot seeds are small and can be fiddly to handle. There are seed dispensers that can make sowing them easier. Find out more here.
As the plants grow, they will need thinning out to ensure there is enough space for each carrot to develop. Aim for one plant every 5cms.
Seeds sown in August and September will provide a crop of young carrots in late autumn and early winter, although they will need protecting from heavy frosts.
Carrots need a moderate amount of watering but don’t go overboard as too much will benefit the foliage rather than the root, and while eating carrot tops is possible, like having bad breath, it’s not really desirable.
Within 12-16 weeks, your carrot crop should be ready for harvesting, although if you prefer baby carrots it’ll be sooner.
Don’t have a veg bed? Carrot foliage isn’t unattractive, so they can be grown in flower beds if space is tight.
Growing in containers is an option too if you don’t have a garden or if soil is cold, heavy and suffers from pests. When the temperature is above 5C, sow seeds in multipurpose potting compost and place pot in a warm, sheltered place.
For best results, sow 32 seeds into a 25cm pot and sow every couple of weeks to ensure a succession of harvests. Water regularly.
Carrot fly lay eggs at the base of carrot plants which result in larvae that burrow into the roots and weaken the plant.
But this miniscule pest can only fly at low level, so if your crop is in a 60cm high raised bed, protected by a barrier at that height or with mesh, it should be ok.
Carrot fly are attracted by the smell when carrot plants are being thinned out. Thinning out in the evening or when conditions are still will help.
Don’t let weeds grow among your carrots, particularly when plants are young, as this will hamper their development.
'Adelaide' AGM: A stumped-ended carrot that can be sown early under cloches.
'Flyaway': Main crop offering sweet medium-length carrots and resistance to carrot fly.
Carrots are versatile as they can be used to accompany meat dishes, in salads, desserts and cakes.
They can be eaten raw, boiled, steamed, pureed and roasted – discover new ways to use them in the kitchen here