These seeds from the batch of carrots harvested two years ago should still be viable. (Mary Lowther photo)

These seeds from the batch of carrots harvested two years ago should still be viable. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Sow to eat your own carrots year-round

Carrots grow best in loose soil that hasn’t been recently manured.

If we plan our gardens right, we can be eating our own carrots all year. I sow my first batch outside in early March and then every three weeks until mid September. By the time that winter stops growth, this last batch will only be a few inches high but come the following spring it will put on new growth so we can harvest decent roots before they send up stalks. Biennials that go through a winter to send up seed stalks the following year, carrots will become hard and woody once they set seed. A wise person marks the best specimens at this time and allows these few to grow out for seeds. Since carrot seeds remain robustly viable for three years, this need only be done that often.

Carrots grow best in loose soil that hasn’t been recently manured. Two weeks before I sow, I spread a quarter inch layer of well aged compost over the bed along with organic fertilizer at the rate of four litres per hundred square feet. Fresh manure or compost causes carrots to fork around them in the soil, so I only use older, aged manure or compost. When I’m ready to sow I dig this under to the depth of the shovel and loosen the soil at the same time.

I sow carrot seeds in rows that are one foot apart and when they sprout out of the ground three weeks later, I lay a soaker hose alongside the row. I sow a few radishes with them to help mark the row because radishes will be out of the ground before carrots make any decent growth. Once the carrots reach two inches high, I thin them to one inch apart, then to two inches apart when they’re six inches tall.

Carrot rust fly can destroy a crop by laying eggs that hatch into maggots that tunnel through the carrots and quickly pupate into flies that lay more eggs. Vern Mitchell in Central Saanich learned that carrot flies don’t fly higher than two feet. “They’re lazy and don’t like to fly too high,” he declared. Therefore, when I sow my rows of carrots, I install a plastic barrier fence two and a half feet high around the whole perimeter of the carrot bed. One could lay Reemay over the bed if bands of Stellar Jays et al didn’t peck through the Reemay and eat every last seed in the bed. Except weed seeds. Come October this year I’ll try taking down the plastic barrier, lay it directly on the carrots and batten that down with insulating mulch – maybe bags of leaves – and see how well they store in the ground.

In the past I’ve removed the barrier completely in the fall, digging up carrots as needed during the winter, but I lost quite a few to frost, and once the ground freezes it’s difficult to dig them up. Storing carrots in a cold room in boxes of damp peat moss or sand works well too, as long as the tops have been cut off first so they don’t suck water out of the roots. I’ve read that the leafy tops are edible, but I haven’t tried them.

Some varieties grow best in certain soils and some for early harvest. For example, Early French produces a short, fat carrot ready to harvest in 62 days. Thicker and longer Danvers grow well in clay soil while thinner Imperators are fine for sandy soils. Danvers half long, Chantenay and Nantes store well and any of the ones I’ve tried overwintered well. My brother-in-law saved tons of a variety of carrot seeds and gave me a bunch two years ago that I’m still sowing successfully so I won’t be buying any this year.

Please contact with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.