Learning how to grow carrots is the perfect way to start your own kitchen garden. Versatile, delicious and packed with nutrients, carrots are a winner at the dinner table. Although in the UK we’re accustomed to long carrots with a bright orange shade, growing your own carrots is a great time to explore the plethora of shapes and sizes of carrot varieties.
Carrots are very easy to grow, and are the perfect starter crop for beginners or planting with children. In this post, we’ll cover the basics of how to grow carrots – and in just a few weeks you can enjoy having these crunchy treats on your plate.
Growing Carrots: Where to Begin?
Growing carrots in the UK is fairly straightforward, and their long season means that you can start sowing certain varieties as early as February, and continue harvesting them as late as October. The trick is to plant them in small, staggered batches so you can enjoy a regular harvest throughout summer and autumn.
When it comes to how to grow carrots, the most important factor is your soil quality. It needs to be fertile and well-draining, but should also be clear of debris. Shallow or rocky soil can lead to your carrots becoming stunted or forked – if you’re concerned, try growing your carrots in containers and/or choosing a short-rooted variety. You can also learn how to improve your garden soil.
Plant in: February, March, April, May, June, July
Harvest in: May, June, July, August, September, October
Most carrots are sown April-July but, just like potatoes, crops fall into categories of “earlies” and “maincrop” – check the seed packets. If you choose an “early” variety, planting can begin in late February as long as you give your seeds the protection of a cloche, fleece cover or similar (or start them indoors).
Carrot seeds only need to be sown about 1cm deep, about 5-7cm apart from each other and leaving 15-30cm between rows. As your seedlings appear, you can thin them out to create the necessary space.
How to grow carrots
You won’t have to worry about watering carrots so much – just give the soil a good soak in long dry spells and hot weather. The bigger concern is weeds, which easily grow between rows and will smother your carrots beneath the surface. Make sure to pull up any interfering growth regularly, and read our tips for keeping weeds out of flower beds.
Be warned that crushing the carrot stems will release a scent that attracts carrot fly – a major carrot pest. You can grow your carrots under a plastic tunnel or mesh to help reduce this worry. Carrots are also a great candidate for companion gardening, as the fragrance of other plants can confuse and deter common pests.
Check on your carrots somewhere between 12-16 weeks, when they should be at their fullest flavour. They will continue to grow if they’re left in the soil longer, but you’ll start to lose their sweetness and taste.
Common Problems When Growing Carrots
There are a couple of pests that you’ll need to tackle as you learn how to grow carrots. Fortunately, there are relatively straightforward ways to prevent the problem and minimise damage.
- Carrot fly is the biggest threat to carrots, and it’s much easier to prevent an infestation than to try and eradicate one. Carrot fly larvae develop underground tunnelling into carrot roots, causing them to rot. Make sure you keep you carrots well-spaced, and avoid crushing their leaves, as mentioned before. Cover your growing plants with a horticultural fleece, or surround your crop with a plastic barrier to keep out low-flying female carrot fly.
- Aphids are the other main pest when it comes to carrots. Aphids suck the sap out of any host plants, and leave a sticky residue behind. This results in limp foliage, and encourages sooty black mould to grow, slowly killing your crops. Small numbers of aphids can be manually pulled off (and squashed), and larger numbers can be controlled by encouraging predator insects into your garden, or using other forms of biological control. Read more tips for getting rid of aphids.
Learning how to grow carrots is a great way to start your own kitchen garden, and familiarise yourself with the cultivation process. Thanks to their versatility, carrots are a fairly low-stakes crop to grow as you figure out what quantity of home-grown food your household needs, and how to manage ongoing batches of plants. They’re also easy to foist onto friends and neighbours if you overdo it!
Good luck, and happy growing!