Carrots aren’t just for rabbits. Grow your own and crunch your way to good health.
Purple, white, orange-white… there are far more varieties of carrots than the delicious orange ones we South Africans are accustomed to. All the carrots commercially cultivated these days are descendants of the original wild ones from Europe and Asia, and they’re not only healthy vegetables that are easy to grow, but they’re versatile too – they can be cooked, roasted or enjoyed raw.
- Carrots grow best in sandy loam or loamy soil. Dig over the soil well to loosen it, but keep it compacted enough that it doesn’t easily blow away. Loose, sandy soil allows the carrots to grow easily, while clods and stones will hinder development and result in forked vegetables. So clear the soil thoroughly, and avoid soil that’s too acidic or alkaline.
- The length of the bed depends purely on what’s convenient for you, but it should be about 1m wide; beds should be spaced about 40 – 50cm apart and should be about 30cm deep.
- Slightly raised beds will allow the soil to drain more easily. But if you’re working with sandy soil this obviously won’t be necessary, as it naturally drains well.
- Carrots can be planted at any time of the year. Sow the seeds 2 – 3cm from each other in trenches 1cm deep and 20 – 30cm apart. Water well after sowing.
- During the first week, the seeds should be watered twice a day. Reduce this to once a day during the second week, and then only three times a week from the third week onwards.
- When the first leaves appear, it’s time to thin out the seedlings so that they are spaced 2 – 3cm apart. Thin them out again when they’re about 15cm tall, to about 5 – 7cm apart. Make sure the soil is damp when doing this and water the plants afterwards.
- The shoulders of the plants should be covered by a thin layer of soil, and the space between the rows should be well mulched to prevent water evaporation.
- The carrots will be ready to harvest after 12 – 16 weeks but, if you prefer soft baby carrots, harvest them earlier – from about 10 – 12 weeks.
- In sandy soil the carrots can be pulled out by hand, otherwise, use a garden fork.
Pests and plagues
- Plant lice These small, green creatures are found on the underside of the leaves and on fresh stalks. Spray with an insecticide containing pyrethrum.
- Split carrots can be caused by a number of factors, including irregular watering and too much compost.
Ever wondered why carrots are that lovely orange colour? That’s because they’re packed with beta-carotenoids that the body coverts into vitamin A. Carrots are also rich in antioxidants that help protect your body against cancers and heart disease.