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Dublin: 11 °C Thursday 21 March, 2019
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Carrots are the classic stock pot vegetable and full of vitamin A

As part of Michael Kelly’s 52 Veg – A Year of Growing, Cooking and Eating your own Food series – this week, we talk carrots.

Michael Kelly Gardener

PERHAPS NOT THE easiest of veg for the beginner (particularly if grown in open ground), carrots are difficult to grow well and require a deep, light, stone free, fertile soil to do well.

But if you get the soil right and keep the carrot root fly away, you will be rewarded with a crunchy, sweet and flavoursome crop. Carrots are the classic stockpot vegetable and full of vitamin A. They store well and can be grown effectively in deep containers or pots.

Growing them yourself is a way to rediscover a long, lost flavour.

Sowing

Carrots are best 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’. Never add fresh manure or compost when sowing carrots as it will cause them to fork, and encourage leafy growth. You can however add well rotted manure or compost the previous autumn to the area where you will grow carrots.

Dig the bed well during the autumn to make sure there is at least a foot of good friable soil – compacted soil equals stunted carrots. Carrot seeds are tiny so this is one situation where you will really need to get the seed bed to a “fine tilth” (see tips).

You can sow carrots from mid April (or March under a cloche or in a polytunnel), but I generally wait until late May to sow my main crop of carrots – germination rates are better in warmer soil. Sow thinly at 2cm deep in rows 20cm apart.

Keep the seed bed 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.

Check out our video on growing carrots:

Source: Giy Ireland/YouTube

Growing

Carrots dislike competition from weeds so keep the bed weed free – use a hoe between the rows and hand-weed around the carrots (though once the foliage grows you won’t need to). Carrots don’t need a lot of watering – in fact, partly the job of growing carrots is about encouraging them to go down in to the soil in search of food and water. In prolonged dry weather you will need to give an occasional soaking.

Harvesting

Baby carrots will be ready about seven weeks after sowing, and you can leave the rest behind to grow more (main crop varieties take about 11 weeks). Lift by hand, or ease out with a fork carefully if ground is hard. Lift carrots rather than leaving them in the ground to grow too large – they are not too tasty when very big. Lift maincrop carrots in October and store in boxes of sand – they can be left in the soil if growth has stopped but are vulnerable to slug damage or rotting if soil is water- logged.

Recommended Varieties

Amsterdam Forcing, Chantenay Red, Autumn King

Problems

If blight is the bogeyman for spuds, then the carrot root fly is the same for carrots – this menace lays eggs in the soil around the carrots, and the little maggots tunnel in to roots which then rot. Cover the bed completely with bionet or fleece, or put a 60cm barrier of fine mesh around the entire carrot bed.

Be careful when thinning – the fly is attracted to the scent of the broken foliage.

GIY Tips

  1. The main thing to watch out for with failed germination is seed falling down between clumps of soil and therefore being too deep to germinate. A fine tilth seedbed should prevent this.
  2. Some GIYers have reported success with sowing carrots in toilet roll inserts – the seed is sown indoors or under cover in an insert full of compost and then when the seedlings have developed, you plant the whole thing (insert and all) in to a hole in the ground. Using this method you avoid tampering with the root.

shutterstock_224828968 Source: Shutterstock/Africa Studio

Recipe of the Week – Spiced Carrot and Lentil Soup

This recipe from Jane Hornby is packed full of iron. You can use a can of coconut milk instead of milk if you want to keep it dairy free. For a warming and nutritious supper, add some cooked strips of chicken at the end of cooking. Serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • pinch chilli flakes
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 600g carrots , washed and coarsely grated (no need to peel)
  • 140g split red lentils
  • 1l hot vegetable stock
  •  125ml milk
  • plain yogurt and naan bread, to serve

Directions:

Heat a large saucepan and dry-fry the cumin seeds and chilli flakes for 1 min, or until they start to jump around the pan and release their aromas. Scoop out about half of the seeds with a spoon and set aside.

Add the oil, carrot, lentils, stock and milk to the pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 15 mins until the lentils have swollen and softened. Whizz the soup with a stick blender or in a food processor until smooth (or leave it chunky if you prefer).

Season to taste and finish with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkling of the reserved toasted spices. Serve with warmed naan breads.

Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY.

Read: Vitamins in garlic help your body fight carcinogens and get rid of toxins>

Read: Aubergines are a tropical plant, but you can still grow them in Ireland>

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About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Gardener

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