The fu­ture is or­ange

The ar­rival of spring has Sue Bradley think­ing about car­rots and sow­ing flower seeds

Living France - - À LA MAISON -

The car­rot is widely held to have orig­i­nated from Per­sia be­fore be­ing brought to Spain by the Moors dur­ing the 8th cen­tury and go­ing on to spread to other parts of Europe. Orig­i­nally cul­ti­vated for its leaves and seeds rather than its white and some­what woody roots, the veg­etable we en­joy to­day owes much to the se­lec­tive breed­ing car­ried out by gen­er­a­tions of grow­ers.

Or­ange car­rots be­gan to ap­pear in the Nether­lands dur­ing the 17th cen­tury, and nowa­days it’s pos­si­ble to grow yel­low, red and pur­ple cul­ti­vars too.

Sev­eral car­rots were de­vel­oped in France dur­ing the 19th cen­tury, in­clud­ing the cigar-shaped ‘Nantes’, named af­ter the city on the River Loire.

Fast ma­tur­ing, with medium-length roots and blunt tips, this sweet and crunchy veg­etable is among the ear­li­est to be sown, with some gar­den­ers able to start them off in shel­tered spots in Fe­bru­ary or March. UK seed com­pa­nies re­fer to this car­rot as ‘Early Nantes’, ‘Nantes 2’ or ‘Nantes 5’.

‘Ox­heart’, or ‘Guérande’, also orig­i­nated in Nantes and is of­ten used as a stew­ing car­rot. At around 15cm (6in) in length and weigh­ing in at around 450g (1lb) when ma­ture, one of these sweet-tast­ing veg­eta­bles is usu­ally enough for a pot. They can be sown from March and are fast grow­ers.

‘Chante­nay’ car­rots, named af­ter a town near Nantes, are con­i­cal and stubby in shape with broad shoul­ders that make them eas­ier to har­vest. They can be sown from April - or ear­lier in areas en­joy­ing warmer cli­mates - and are suited to heav­ier soils. The orig­i­nal Chante­nay had a yel­low core, but red-cored ver­sions are also avail­able. ‘Royal Chante­nay’ and ‘Supreme Chante­nay Red-Cored’ are among some of the names used for this type of car­rot in the UK.

Other car­rots orig­i­nat­ing from France in­clude the sweet and juicy ‘Tou­chon’, a fast-grow­ing cul­ti­var that can be sown in both spring and sum­mer and is said to have a su­perb flavour.

Most car­rots grow best in a light and fer­tile soil in a sunny spot; avoid freshly ma­nured soils as this will cause them to ‘fork’.

Sow seeds in thinly in drills in the ground, cover with soil and wa­ter well. Leave 30cm (12in) be­tween each row. Take steps to pro­tect car­rot seedlings from slugs and, as the plants de­velop, use hor­ti­cul­tural fleece or one-me­tre-high bar­ri­ers to guard against car­rot root fly, the larva of which rid­dles the roots with brown tun­nels. Us­ing onions or gar­lic as com­pan­ion plants is also said to de­ter in­fes­ta­tions. If car­rot root fly is a par­tic­u­lar prob­lem, look for mod­ern hy­brids such as ‘Fly­away’, which has been bred to be re­sis­tant to this pest but re­tained its good flavour.

As well as grow­ing well in the gar­den, car­rots are also suited to con­tain­ers, with Chante­nay and Nantes types per­form­ing espe­cially well in such con­di­tions.

Some car­rots, early-sown ‘Nantes’ types among them, are ready to pull af­ter around nine weeks, while main­crop va­ri­eties can be har­vested af­ter around 11 weeks and stored in a cool, dry place for up to four months.

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