Diarmuid Gavin: 2019 is the year of the carrot - here are the best ones to grow with your kids
Fruit and vegetable growing in domestic gardens has continued in popularity for nearly a decade, with an increasing number of gardeners willing to give it a go. We are becoming more aware of how what we eat is grown and prepared, and many of us are concerned about the types of chemicals which may have aided the production process. Growing some of our own provides some certainty and allows us to engage children with the gardening process. And one of the vegetables that children love to grow and eat is carrots!
According to international plant organisation Fleuroselect, 2019 will be the year of the carrot - and they'd like to encourage more gardeners to grow their own. Carrots are an easy crop to cultivate, have a quick seed-to-harvest timeline and are delicious and nutritious, whether raw or cooked.
Carrots grown as far back as the 10th century in Persia were white and purple, and it was only in the 17th century that Dutch breeders created the familiar orange root.
Today, they come in many different shapes, sizes and colours. Like potatoes, there are early and maincrop varieties, so if you want to extend your grow and harvest season, grow a combination of the two.
If you've never attempted to grow carrots before, here are some guidelines and varieties to try.
The ideal growing medium is a light sandy soil and if you have this you can grow most types, including the long, slender 'Imperator' varieties. Stony soil can cause forking, where the root splits in two or more - taste-wise, this doesn't matter but won't win any awards for appearance. Heavy clay or recently-manured soil can also cause forking, but there are short-rooted varieties which are more suitable for a clay soil.
Early varieties can be sown under cloche in February and March but I'd advise waiting until April for outdoor sowing, when temperatures reach 10°C and germination will be quicker. You can keep succession sowing until July, which will ensure regular crops for you.
The seed is pretty small so it's difficult to sow thinly - you will probably need to thin out seedlings as they emerge to give each plant 2 or 3in of space. Sow shallowly about ½in deep.
Carrot fly is the main pest for this crop. Be careful when weeding or thinning, as crushed foliage releases a smell which attracts this fly. Otherwise, you can cover your crop with horticultural fleece, fine insect netting or a polythene tunnel, which will hinder the flies from getting in and laying their eggs.
Herbs such as rosemary (pictured above), sage and chives are all thought to be good companions to carrots, as their strong scents confuse the flies!
There's no maintenance other than weeding and watering in dry periods, and approximately three months after sowing you'll be ready for your first harvest!
Here's my pick of the crop:
* 'Volcano' is exclusive to Mr Fothergill's and is resistant to breakage, splitting and di ease (£3.05/approx €3.50 for 350 seeds). If you have light sandy soil, try their 'Malbec' - a red long-rooted type, perfect for roasting with exceptional flavour (£3.05/approx €3.50 for 350 seeds). See mr-fothergills.co.uk.
* 'Paris Market' are bite-sized, almost perfectly round carrots. They are early maturing and, due to their size, are ideal for growing in shallow or stony soil or a windowbox (£1.30/approx €1.50 for 750 seeds). See kingseeds.com.
* Extend your growing season with 'Autumn King', a long-time favourite with gardeners. A maincrop with great colour and flavour, its large roots can be lifted from late summer through into winter. (£2.29/approx €2.60 for 1,500 seeds). See unwins.co.uk.
* 'Eskimo' is one of the most cold-tolerant varieties available. This late maincrop has very good resistance to frost damage and will cope with winter weather down to -10°C (-23°F) when grown on lighter soils. It also reduces the need to cover the crop in the late autumn period. It can be lifted late in the season and stored, or overwintered on well-drained soils. (€1.98 for 400 seeds). See seedaholic.com.
The carrot cultivar 'Flyaway' has been specially bred for resistance to carrot fly - and is a very tasty variety too.