Carrots rank as second in popularity of vegetables to grow at home, only behind potatoes. Home-grown carrots are much sweeter than those you find in supermarkets, and with the right conditions are easy to grow.
Whilst long, conical, orange carrots are still the most popular but you can pick from hundreds of varieties of different size, shape and colour.
Carrots are best grown in light, crumbly soil, however if you have clay or stony soil you'll probably struggle with long rooted carrots, as they will fork or distort. In these cases it is best to choose short or round types such as Paris Market.
Carrots don't need much feeding - give the soil a boost with potassium a fortnight before sowing, and avoid a recently manured plot. If possible mulch the ground the previous autumn with leaf mould.
Early crops like a sheltered location whereas the maincrop varieties prefer full sun. Carrots can also be grown in containers but ensure they are always moist and that there is sufficient drainage.
After sowing the seedlings should appear soon, and will need thinning out to give each root room to grow. 4 inches apart is the ideal amount of space for carrots. Make sure they receive plenty of water, especially in the early weeks.
Once the seedlings have grown a fair amount mulch with compost or clean straw, so that the shoulders do not get exposed to sunlight - this is called green shoulder.
The main pest to worry about is carrot fly. The larvae tunnel into carrot roots, causing mould to develop. If you are unsure whether your crop has been affected, and it can be difficult to tell sometimes, put your carrots into a bucket of water – all the badly affected ones will float to the surface.
Most carrots will be ready to harvest 3 months after sowing. Water the bed a couple of hours before harvesting, in order to make the task easier. Hold the green foliage and pull, twisting as you pull. You can store carrots fairly easily, but try to ensure they don't touch each other in a wooden box, sitting atop sand or shredded paper.
Carrots are one of the easiest crops to grow in good soil, but if you don't have this then try a shorter carrot or growing in containers. You will enjoy the sweet flavour so much more when you know you have grown them yourself.