Thanks for taking the time to read our article on how to grow carrots for beginners in the UK. More carrots are consumed in the United Kingdom than in any other European country such is the love for this popular vegetable. They are of course a very versatile vegetable and have many uses in cooking.
They can be chopped and used as carrot stick snacks, easily shredded and used in a variety of salads, sliced up and put into stews and casseroles or simply chopped and boiled and served as a hot vegetable. Many people also enjoy a slice of carrot cake.
In terms of growing carrots are not as easy as many people may initially think. You do need good quality soil that is fertile and relatively fine. If you have stony soil or clay soil, then you will struggle to grow any type of carrots.
Varieties in the UK
There are three main varieties of carrots:
- Short rooted varieties - These are really the only choice if your soil is heavy or stony. They may be known as finger long or ball round carrots and they do mature very quickly. As soon as they mature they need to be picked and used or frozen. Two of the most popular varieties grown in the UK are the Amsterdam Forcing and the Early Nantes. Both produce small tender carrots. Other varieties include the Kundulus, Tiana, Champion Scarlet Horn and the Early French Frame.
- Intermediate rooted varieties - These varieties that are the most popular and will be grown by most UK vegetable gardeners. They are a nice medium size and suitable for most types of cooking. Popular varieties include the Chantenay Red Cored, Berlicum Berjo, Autumn King, Nantes Tip Top, Mokum, Flakkee and the James Scarlet Intermediate.
- Long rooted varieties- These are popular with UK gardeners who like to exhibit their carrot growing prowess at various gardening shows. They are long and tapered and best presented long and as straight as possible. Most UK gardeners will not have the quality of soil to grow these. Popular varieties for this type of carrot are the New Red Intermediate and the St Valery.
Carrots are grown from seed and it is always advisable to mix with sand or a fine peat to prevent sowing too thickly. Either this process or buy and use pelleted seeds.
Germination time of seeds
Life expectancy of seed
No of seeds per ounce
Expected yield from a 10 feet row
8 lbs from short rooted varieties and 10 lbs from intermediate varieties
Ease of Growing
Not difficult as long as you have good soil and can avoid the dreaded carrot fly.
- Seed Sowing Time - March and through to June
- Picking Time - Late June through to December
Best Soil & Planting Tips
All types of carrot need rich and fertile soil. Ideally it should also be deep soil and a tad sandy also helps a lot. It just allows the carrots to grow without any type of obstruction.
Please note any soil that has been manured in the past year should never be used to grow carrots.
Ideally pick a sunny spot, which you can dig in the Autumn. You can dig in peat but never dig in either compost or manure. 1-2 weeks before sowing prepare the seed bed and rake a general purpose fertlizer into the soil.
Sow thinly to reduce the need for thinning.
Maintaining Your Carrots
Thin out seedlings as soon as they are large enough to handle. Plants should be about 2-3" apart when you have thinned them out. You do need to do this thinning out carefully and gently to minimise the amount of damage to the foilage. The reason for this is the carrot fly is attracted by the scent of bruised foilage and you want to avoid attracting those.
Once thinned out then water well and then firm the soil around the remaining plants. Dispose of any unused seedlings to ward off the carrot fly. As the season progresses remove any weeds by hand and try to avoid using a hoe where possible. Water if there are long dry periods.
- For early crops which will be ready in June, sow a short rooted variety in early March under a cloche or cold frame.
- For a crop in July sow a short rooted variety in early April in a sheltered area or under a cold frame
- Main crop varieties sow intermediate varieties from mid-April up to early June and these will be ready for lifting from August through to December (Cover them with cloches from October if not using right away.
Pests and Problems
Generally speaking carrots are easy to grow if the soil is good. There are however some garden pests that you should be aware of.
This is the main one to look out for and is in effect a 1/4" cream coloured maggot that eats the roots of both carrots and parsnips. There is no treatment for these once they appear and your crop will be lost. The first tell tale signs are reddish leaves which will start to wilt in sunny weather.
To try and prevent the carrot fly grow carrots well away from other plants. Always sow thinly and make sure to get rid of any unused thinnings. You can use a general purpose crop saver to ward these off.
This is where you will notice the very tops of the carrot turning green when the crop is harvested. It isn't actually anything to worry about and is the effect of the sun being exposed to the top of the carrot. Earthing up around the carrot will stop this from happening.
Almost always this is caused by poor quality soil or stony soil. We have seen so many gardeners truly disappointed by the length of their carrots and alomost always that is down to poor soil conditions. Sometimes it can be the result of either aphids or a virus. If you find the plants are growing slowly you can spray them with some type of foliar feed at regular intervals.
Carrot Willow Aphid
These are essentially greenfly attacks which can get bad on hot summer days. The leaves will become distorted, change colour or just have a stunted growth. Use a crop saver spray at the first sign of any of the above.
These are caterpillars that live in the soil. When disturbed they move backwards and forwards and will hollow out the roots of both carrots and parsnips. There is no treatment for these other than to destroy the caterpillars and burn any carrot plants.
Motley Dwarf Virus
The central leaves in the plants take on a yellow hue or mottling, and the outer leaves tend to go slightly red. The carrot willow aphid the spreads this virus quickly. This virus will greatly restrict growth. Again the regular application of a general crop saver will help prevent this from happening.
Rather than a single carrot growing the carrot tends to grow in two roots making the plant look like a fang. This is caused by growing carrots in stony or clay soils that have not been properly dug and treated. Fanging is also caused if you add compost or manure to the soil before sowing your seeds.
Split roots are more serious than the fangs mentioned above. This can happen if you get periods of long and heavy rainfall after a long dry spell. You can still eat these carrots but they just don't look that good. Ideally try and use a peat mulch during dry weather to help keep the right level of moisture in the ground.
Hopefully we have given you enough information to be able to grow carrots in the UK. As a beginner we would recommend trying these as long as you have good enough soil.