Carrots are one of the best vegies you can get kids started with in the garden. They don’t take up much space, either, so even if you have only a small patch of sunny ground available, you can get a small crop of carrots growing.
Seed or seedling? Carrots (Daucus carota ssp. sativus) grow better if planted as seed where you want them to grow, but you can grow them from seedlings, too.
Sowing times: in temperate climates, you can sow carrot seed from August to March, and in cool climates from August until January. In tropical climates you can sow carrot seed from February through to November.
Preparing soil: preparing the soil before planting is important, as carrots need deep, well-drained soil that is free of rocks, stones, old roots or anything else that could get in their way. Dig the patch over really well down to the depth of a spade (about 30cm), until the soil is fine and crumbly. Add some compost and well-rotted manure, and mix that in well with the soil.
Sowing seed: to sow seed, mark little rows in the soil 6mm deep (about a quarter of an inch) scatter in the fine seed, then cover with soil or seed-raising mix. Water with a gentle spray. Tip: carrot seed is very fine, so if you mix up the seed with some dry sand and sprinkle that into the soil furrow, you’ll get a better idea of where the seed is going. It will take about two to three weeks for the baby plants to emerge. As carrot seed is fine, you’ll probably sow too many, so you’ll need to thin out the excess seedlings. Wait until the plants are about 5cm (two inches) high, then thin them out to 2-3cm apart. Later on, when they’re about 15cm high, thin them out to 5cm apart (these second thinnings are usually big enough to eat, so you end up with better value for money, and more delicious carrots!)
Sowing seedlings: tip the seedlings out of the punnet and separate them into individual plants, then plant them into well prepared soil, spacing them 5cm apart. Water in well with a gentle spray, and keep seedlings well watered until they’re growing well.
General care: carrots are easy to look after and just need a steady supply of water to keep them growing rapidly.
Harvesting: carrots will be ready for harvesting about 3-4 months after sowing. If you’re not sure if they are ready, just pull one out of the ground and see how it’s going. Don’t feel obliged to pull them all out, either. You can just harvest as many as you need that night, and leave the rest in the ground until you need them.
Problems: if your carrots come up with weird shapes, there are two common causes. One is when carrot roots strike rocks, stones, old plant roots – the carrots will bend around the obstruction and grow into strange shapes. Another cause of odd carrots is clumps of fertiliser or manure – these will cause ‘forking’, where the carrot splits into a clump of several roots. The other common problem with carrots is due to too much nitrogen-rich fertiliser: you end up with lots of leaves above ground, but poor roots below ground. So, a good rule with carrots is to go easy on the fertiliser.
Best varieties: seeds provide the best choice of varieties, as your choice in carrot seedlings is quite limited. Look for good performers such as ‘Topweight’, ‘Western Red’ and ‘All Seasons’. For shallow soils or pots, try ‘Early Chantenay’ or ‘Baby’. ‘Manchester Table’ has cylindrical roots.
Can carrots help your eyesight?
Yes, carrots really can help you see in the dark. Carrots are rich in beta carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A. Cells within your eye bind vitamin A with a protein called opsin to form rhodopsin. When rhodopsin is exposed to light it triggers reactions that allow good vision in dim light. Just one medium-sized carrot has enough beta carotene to supply two days’ worth of vitamin A. However, eating any more carrots than that won’t make your eyesight even better. In fact, if you overdose on carrots, your skin could turn yellow!
750g carrots, cut into thick slices
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder (optional)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
coriander or parsley leaves, chopped
1. Boil carrots slices in salted water until tender, about 10-15 minutes, then drain.
2. Combine all the dressing ingredients, then pour over the carrots straight away.
3. Garnish with coriander or parsley leaves, and serve as part of a barbecue spread.
Tracy Rutherford’s Mini Carrot Cakes
1 cup (150g) self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (45g) desiccated coconut
2/3 cup (150g) brown sugar
1/2 cup (125ml) light olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 smallish carrots (about 200g in total)
250g tub spreadable cream cheese
1/2 cup icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
1. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Lightly grease 8 mini loaf pans (see note). Sift the flour, bicarb soda and cinnamon into a large bowl, and stir in the coconut. Place the brown sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla into a jug, and mix with a fork until evenly combined. Peel and finely grate the carrots.
2. Pour the oil mixture onto the dry ingredients, and fold together with a rubber spatula until combined. Gently fold in the grated carrot.
3. Scoop the mixture into the prepared tin, and bake for 20 minutes, until they spring back to a gentle touch. Leave in the tin for 5 minutes then lift out onto a wire rack to cool.
4. When the cake is cold, combine the cream cheese, sifted icing sugar and vanilla essence until smooth. Spread over the cakes.
Note: mini loaf pans are like muffin tins, only rectangular in shape. They are available from kitchenware shops and large supermarkets. They have a non-stick surface, but still need to be greased.