The future is orange
The arrival of spring has Sue Bradley thinking about carrots and sowing flower seeds
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.