How To Grow - Carrots, Swedes and Turnips

Carrots are a hardy crop to grow, and the results are tasty and famously nutritious with high Vitamin A. Originally from the Mediterranean, they aren’t all orange and long – different varieties will give you a range of tastes, colours and shapes, including purple carrots and round carrots! We’ve put together this growing guide to help you get started. Swedes and turnips are also hardy crops, similar in taste though the Swede is sweeter. All three root vegetables need similar conditions in which to grow.

When and Where

Once the risk of frost has receded you can plant out your seeds – usually from mid-March onwards. The plants once established can survive a light frost. As with other root vegetables, the quality of the soil is critical for success – light and sandy is best. Ideally, you need to work on your carrot, swede or turnip patch in the late winter. Turn it until the soil becomes finer in texture, and remove any stones you turn up. Don’t dig in manure as the seeds do not need a rich soil. You can choose a variety with short roots which will respond better if your soil is ineluctably poorly drained and heavy – with clay, stones or chalk. Alternatively, you can sow your carrots into a large container.

How to Plant

Carrots divide into early or main crop varieties – early varieties mature in around 12 weeks, and main crops in 16 weeks. Choose main crops if you want to store your carrots. Having prepared your soil in the late winter by forking over, rake in a little fertiliser around 7 days before sowing your carrot, swede or turnip seeds. Choose a sunny day free from rain as your sowing day, and create a shallow drill – 2 to 3 cm deep – and sow the seeds thinly along the line. Cover over the seeds with soil; if there is still a possibility of frost, use protective fleece or a cloche. Water in. Germination usually takes around 2 weeks. When the seedlings have sprouted and have developed leaves, thin these out to leave 4 to 5 cm gaps between plants – the size of the roots depends on the size of the gap. Always keep carrots, swedes and turnips well watered as dry conditions will produce woodier, coarse roots. Other than this the plants should develop on their own with little further attention.

Harvesting

The harvesting time for carrots begins in June or July. Pull your carrots as soon as they’re the required size for the kitchen – the optimum time to harvest them is in the evening as this avoids attracting any carrot flies. Carrots sown later in the season to be stored over the winter must be lifted by October. To store, remove foliage from undamaged roots and lay these between layers of sand in a wooden box ensuring that roots don’t touch each other. Check your storage box every now and again for any rotten roots and remove these. Harvest Swedes in late autumn.

Through the Year

Ward against carrot fly by thinning and harvesting your carrots on still days and in the evening – these flies are attracted to carrots by the smell of crushed foliage. You can also put up a break like a windbreak around your carrots as the carrot flies are low-flying – use plastic sheeting or cloth.

Handy Tips

Sowing thinly can be tricky – if you’re getting into difficulty or finding it too fiddly, mix sand with the seeds when you sow them, automatically thinning out the seeds in the palm of your hand. The sand will also assist in increasing drainage.


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