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From the Garden: Carrots can be problematic to grow but the following tips will work

Many growing books will tell you to sow carrots in March or April but I always wait until May or June to sow mine, writes Michael Kelly.

CARROTS ARE A veg that cause a lot of problems for many GIYers, which is a great pity because the rewards are considerable when you get them right.  

They are another veg that’s great value for space, and they store really well.

The good news is that the problems that we have with growing them can be avoided – I promise.

Firstly, carrots should only be sown direct in the soil as they do not transplant well – there’s really very little point in trying to sow seeds in module trays for later transplanting or for that matter in buying carrot ‘seedlings’.  

Working with such tiny seeds, planting depth is key and because we’re sowing direct, it’s easy to end up sowing them to shallow or deep.

They are one of the only veg therefore where I work hard on getting the soil to a fine tilth before sowing, so that you have a nice flat, even surface to sow them in to.  

Secondly, the soil quality has to be good down to at least a spade’s depth so the carrots have the space they need to grow down.  A hard, stony soil will result in stunted or forked growth.

I generally aim to the fork over the bed about 2-4 weeks before sowing to make sure there is at least a foot of good friable soil.

I remove any stones and break up the clods with the fork before raking it to a fine consistency.

There’s also a slightly different feeding regime when it comes to carrots.  The usual advice of adding lots of compost, manure or seaweed to the beds over the winter does not apply in this case.  

In fact, though it might seem counter-intuitive we want to be a little stingy with feeding and watering to encourage the root to grow into the soil in search of both.  

If there’s too much nutrition in the soil, the root will often fork because it’s getting distracted by easily available nutrients as it grows down. So, over the winter months, I will generally hold off adding compost to the area where I am going to grow carrots the following year.  

I will, however, add some seaweed dust to the soil before sowing to give it a little boost.

Timing your carrot sowing is also important.  Though many growing books will tell you to sow carrots in March or April, I always wait until May or June to sow mine.

Germination rates are far better if you leave it a little later to sow, and you also tend to have fewer problems with the dastardly carrot root fly (currently sniffing the air and taking off to fly to your veg patch at the mere mention of carrots).  

So, yes, that means I won’t have carrots until later summer, but I don’t mind waiting for what I think of as the quintessential stew or stock root crop.

A covering of bionet is really the only way to thwart the carrot root fly. The damage from the maggots of the root fly can be extensive.  

Finally, I find slugs to be a problem at sowing time – as an example, one year I had an entire row of lovely carrot seedlings taken out by slugs.  

A sprinkle of organic slugs pellets (iron phosphate) will help, as will the biological control nemaslug (pricey, but maybe worth it to save an entire bed of carrots).  

Having raked the bed flat, I make 2cm deep drills in rows 20 to 25cm apart and sow the seeds as thinly as I can.

Cover back over with soil and then keep the seedbed moist to encourage germination.  

Don’t be alarmed if nothing seems to be happening. It could take 2-3 weeks. Thin to 5cm when the seedlings are large enough to handle.

The Basics – Pot up Courgettes, Squashes etc.

This time of the year is all about managing the timing of when you plant seedlings out in the garden.  

Do it too early and the plants will be knocked back by night-time cold. Do it too late and the plants become ‘pot-bound’ – that is, they have grown too large for their container resulting in tangling of the roots (and possibly bolting issues later on).

I’m still too suspicious of the weather to plant out relatively tender plants like courgettes and squashes – by potting them on into bigger pots, you buy yourself a couple of extra weeks where you can keep them indoors.  

I sow courgette, squash, cucumber and pumpkin plants in large module trays but they grow incredibly quickly and need to be put into larger pots within 2 weeks or so.  

Simply pop the seedling out of its module, put a little compost in the base of a bigger pot, place the seedling in carefully and then fill it in with compost.

It pays to water the plants very well about an hour beforehand – the seedlings pop out of the pots much easier then – and of course, you need to water again after you have finished potting them on.

Recipe of the Week – Grilled Asparagus with Olive Oil, Lemon and Parmesan

Asparagus is in season and this recipe from Jamie Oliver is a really simple way to cook them – and with a great ingredient like this, you really don’t need to tart it up.

Ingredients:

  • 800g asparagus, washed and woody ends chopped off
  • Lemon juice
  • Olive Oil
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions:

Heat a large griddle pan and dry-griddle the asparagus spears on both sides until nicely marked. As soon as they’re ready, put them on to four plates and dress with a good squeeze of lemon juice and three times as much olive oil.

Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, then take a block of Parmesan to the table and either grate or shave some over the asparagus.

Michael Kelly is an author, broadcaster and founder of GIY.

© GIY Ireland 2019 – all rights reserved.

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