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Carrots (Umbelliferae - Daucus carota)

Carrots are commonly available vegetables and in many cases it is taken for granted. However, if we stop to think a bit about carrots then we can truly be astonished at this little powerhouse. Carrots are packed with nutrients, anti-oxidants, and beneficial qualities. Carrot origins can be traced to the Afghanistan region as far back as 2 800 years ago. The carrots of yesteryear were very different to the ones we get today. In fact many of the available carrot varieties were bitter, more fibrous and were regarded mainly as medicine and not so much as food. They were small, thin and came in many colors ranging from purple, orange, and yellow to red, as well as from black to white. The orange carrots that we have today owe its color to Dutch politics. In the sixteenth century yellow and red carrots were crossed to create the color of the House of Orange. The yellow carrots from North Africa and the red carrots from the East were used in this crossing to honor the House of Orange.

Nutrients in carrots

All carrots are rich in Vitamin B, Vitamin C and calcium pectate, all which have cholesterol lowering properties. The Calcium in carrots is easily absorbed into the blood stream. Carrots also have high levels of potassium, folic acid as well as magnesium. Folic acid is required to enable the body to absorb iron. In additions, the different colors in carrots are indicative of the different levels of nutrients that carrots contain.

  • Red carrots have a high lycopene content.
  • Orange carrots have a high carotene content.
  • Purple carrots have a high anthiocyanin content.
  • Lycopene, carotene and anthiocyanin are antioxidants, the cancer fighters.

How to grow carrots

Where and when to plant your carrots

Carrots make excellent companion plants to radish, pea, lettuce, tomatoes and onions. To combat garden pests such as white fly planting onions as a companion plant makes perfect sense. With Sage growing in the background you cannot go wrong when cultivating carrots at home in your garden.

As indicated in our sowing guide, carrots can be sown during spring, early summer and autumn. If you live in a sub tropical area then you should restrict your sowing time to the cooler periods of the year.

Carrots prefer to grow in light sandy garden soil that drains easily. If you happen to have clayey garden soil then it is recommended that you add organic content to the garden soil approximately 3 or more weeks before sowing the carrot seeds. Carrots will struggle to grow in clayey soil. Dig about a spade depth into the garden soil. Loosen the soil with a garden fork and work in about a 3 cm (1 inch) layer of compost. Further preparation of the vegetable bed for carrots should preferably include a handful of super phosphate (in the form of either bone meal of blood meal is best) and approximately one desert spoon of 3:1:5 per square meter.

How to sow your carrot seeds

Take care never to sow carrots into a newly composted bed as it will result in carrots with distorted root systems and distorted shapes. Wait till about 3 weeks after composting your garden soil to sow the carrot seeds.

Carrot seeds germinate slowly. You will probably wait between 10 and 14 days before you will notice any of the carrots seeds coming up. You should water the garden soil regularly and shade the bed to conserve moisture if necessary.

If you want to ensure that you can harvest carrots right through the year you should sow one row of approximately 2 m in length every three weeks. Remember that the carrots will take longer to grow in the colder months. (TIP: Just before winter you should sow more carrots than you usually sow during the summer months)

Sow the seed a bit thicker in the winter months.

Taking care of your carrots

Always keep the soil moist but not wet or flooded. Furthermore keep the garden soil free of weeds and pests such as snails and slugs.

Since the carrot seeds lie very shallow in the garden soil, shade is of the utmost importance. Shade can be provided by placing a shade net over the area. Alternatively you may also use a wet bag. As soon as the seeds germinate remove the bag, but keep the soil moist (not wet).

When your carrot seedlings have grown to about three leaves per seedling, then you should fertilize them with some LAN (Limestone Ammonium Nitrate). Take care not to let any of the LAN fall on the leaves. Water the fertilizer in.

When you carrot seedlings have grown to about 6 leaves per seedling then fertilize them with 1:0:1 fertilizer and water it into the garden soil. Again take care not to let the fertilizer fall on the leaves as it may burn the leaves.

After eight weeks you can also add some potassium sulphate (approximately 1 teaspoon per square meter) to add deeper color to the carrots.

Repeat fertilizing with the potassium sulphate every two weeks until you harvest the first carrots.

Thinning out the seedlings is important when cultivating carrots.

How to harvest your carrot crop

It depends on the type of carrot that you are cultivating, but in general carrots can be harvested from the eighth week.

When harvesting your first carrots you should orchestrate it in such a way as to double-task as thinning.

Give the carrots a generous watering after the harvest.

It is best to leave the carrots in the ground rather than to take it out of the garden soil and storing it somewhere else. The carrots will keep its shape and flavor so much better if left in the garden soil and harvested just as required. It is also much more nutritious. In winter it can take up to twenty weeks for carrots to grow to maturity and in this time you can harvest as you require carrots.

Troubleshooting carrot crop failure and growing pains

Carrots growing into strange shapes

This problem is mainly due to eelworm infestation. Eelworms tunnel into the roots of plants and cause restrictions in root development. Eelworm infestation thus results in carrots being misshapen, forked and with lumpy roots. Combat eelworm infestation by increasing the organic content of your garden soil. By building up the organic content in your garden soil you can eradicate eelworm in your soil.

Carrots cannot grow long enough

Carrots have huge root systems and need to use their roots to develop long carrots. You must ensure that the taproot of your carrot seedlings will not come up against hard or impervious layers in the garden soil. You should till the soil deeply. Now deep tillage does not necessarily mean that you have to turn the garden soil to maximum depth. Just push the garden fork to its full depth and tilt slightly to break up the layers of garden soil. Deeper roots will result in longer carrots with better color and quality because it can then absorb nutrients and moisture way beyond the reach of other vegetables.

Carrots short and stumpy and seem too thirsty

Irrigating carrots can be problematic. Often gardeners provide frequent light irrigations rather than a weekly soaking. Light irrigations result in short, stumpy carrots which also translate into a waste of water, encouraging disease and limiting the root system from developing properly. Carrots prefer less frequent, very heavy irrigation as the roots progress down the garden soil.

General carrot crop failure

Since carrots are deep rooted vegetables you will get a better vegetable crop if you dig over the garden bed to a good depth for the carrot cultivation. Compact layers of garden soil will result in short roots, resulting in short carrots and even crop failure. With better soil preparation you can prevent a possible carrot crop failure.

An unacceptable size carrot

When a vegetable crop is planted too dense it can result in carrot crop failure: - like all other plants, carrots are affected by the amount of sunlight that it is exposed to. The amount of sunlight received by the plants limits the number of carrots that you can fit into an area. Carrots are not limited by the space occupied by the roots. By planting the carrots too close together, you are actually creating weeds. You should preferably thin out the carrot seedlings to between 50 and 100 carrots per square meter. (TIP: The best density to strive towards is 80 plants per square meter and thinning it out to about 50 plants per square meter.) Thinning out of carrots should occur at the four leaf stage. The big misconception in carrot cultivation is that most gardeners believe that carrots merely need to be spaced to the width in all directions. The major limiting factor in carrot cultivation is sunlight and not necessarily garden soil space. To get a suitable, acceptable carrot the plant should be exposed to a specific amount of sunlight.