How to grow Carrots in Ireland

Carrot (cairéad) – Time to harvest: 3 months – Difficulty: Hard 

Picture of carrots

Carrots are a rather difficult vegetable to grow. Plagued by the carrot root fly, they need good, fine and light soil. But the reward of having one of Ireland’s most popular vegetable fresh from the garden, outweighs the effort. Sow carrots every two weeks and you will have a never-ending supply. This guide will show you how to grow carrots in Ireland.

Originally carrots were purple, white or yellow, but in the 16th century Dutch growers made them orange in tribute to their royal family. You can buy the original colours in any good gardening store.

Recommended varieties

Carrots can be grown all year round provided you choose the right varieties.

Earlies: Sow in late spring around March or April. Harvest from July to September. Earlies take around 12 weeks from sow to harvest. They are more tender and don’t store as well as maincrops.

Maincrop: Sow in April or May. These are bigger than earlies, so they need more space to grow. They take 16 weeks from sow to harvest. Harvest from October to November.

Late maincrop: Similar to maincrop but sown later in the year. Sow in June/July and harvest from December.

  • Nantes 2 is bright orange and is sweet flavoured. Early and maincrop.
  • Flyaway is resistant to the famous carrot fly and is quite tasty to boot. Second early and maincrop.
  • Autumn King is best for sowing late in the season. They have a good flavour and are large and robust.

Seeds

A packet of seeds should keep for 3 years if stored in a cool dry location. The seeds are tiny, only around 1mm wide.
If you have a good crop of flavourful carrots, you may wish to save the seeds. But it is often more trouble than it’s worth. If your seeds are F1 hybrid they will not grow the same as the original. Hybrid means they have two parents. They may only take one parents characteristics or may sterile. Most shop-bought varieties are hybrid.

To save your seeds, leave your carrots in the ground over winter. Carrots are biennials so they flower in the second year. When the flowers turn brown and dry, cut off the heads and store in a paper bag. When fully dry transfer to a tightly lidded container and shake to detach the seeds. Store in a cold, dry location or in the refrigerator for long-term storage.

Regrowing

You can’t regrow carrots from tops, however you can grow carrot foliage which makes a pretty plant. Cut 1.5 cm from the top of carrot and place in a shallow dish of water. Re-fill the water as needed. You can plant the top out in the garden or in a pot. Again, the root won’t grow but the foliage should grow and eventually go to flower and seed.

Location and soil

They thrive in a sunny location but can tolerate partial shade and are best sheltered from wind.

The optimum soil P.H is between 6.0 and 6.8. If your soil is below 5.5 it is far too acidic for the carrots to grow.

The best soil for carrots is a light and sandy soil. If you have heavy or clay-like soil, stick to short carrot varieties or add compost to lighten. Remove all stones and break up clumps until your soil is light and fine. Make sure the depth is consistent to about 30cm (12 inches).

Growing

Germination

Seeds will germinate at a wide range, between 5-32 degrees Celsius. The lower the temperature the slower to grow. Carrots take over 2/3 weeks to germinate so don’t worry if nothing seems to be growing. During the germination stage it is important to keep the seeds watered evenly.

Indoors

As carrots do not transplant well, it is best to sow directly into the soil. But if you wish to start the seeds indoors, pot seeds into 9cm deep Bio-degradable fibre pots. Pack the pot loosely and crumble up any lumps of compost. Soak the compost well with water.

Carrot seeds are tiny so be careful turning them out of the packet. Try your best to sow thinly with only 3-5 per pot, dispersing evenly. Sprinkle a light 2 cm layer of compost over the seeds.

In 2/3 weeks, they will germinate. After a further 2/3 weeks carefully pull out the weakest seedlings, leaving the healthiest seedling remaining in the pot. The strongest will be tall and have the most foliage.

Transplanting

If transplanting outdoors remember to harden off your plants. Place your pots outside each day for a week, bringing them in at night. Transplant your seedlings in the evening. Prepare the soil by creating rows 15cm apart.

Dig a small hole and place the fibre pot into it. Spread the soil back around the pot, leaving the top of the pot slightly exposed. After potting, water well.

Picture of carrot top foliage

Outdoors

For earlies sow in March, but don’t if the weather is too cold or wet as they will not germinate. You may find more success sowing in April. Optionally cover with a fleece to keep the soil warm and protect from pests.

Prepare your soil two weeks in advance by digging deep and turning, pick out all stones. Dig 2cm deep drills keeping 15cm between each row.

Water the soil before sowing. Take your seeds and sow every 7cm. Be careful as the seeds are tiny. Gently rake the soil over back over the seeds. Keep lightly watered for the germination stage making sure not to dislodge the seeds. Seedlings may appear after 2/3 weeks.

Thinning

Thin if the seedlings are too close together. Gently pull out the weakest seedling, leaving a gap of 7cm between each plant. Work quickly, preferably on a windy day as pheromones that attract the carrot fly are released when the leaves are bruised. Dispose of your thinned seedlings away from your garden.

Growing in containers

You need a container at least 30cm deep with plenty of drainage holes. Containers can be bags, pots or even 2 litre bottles. Choose carrot varieties with shorter lengths like Chantenay or look for seed packets specifically for patio container gardening.

Fill your container will loose, light soil and water. Make 2cm holes in the soil spacing 5cm apart. Place seeds in the hole and cover with compost. Gently water and place in a sunny spot.

Care

Keep well-watered but don’t overwater as it makes them rot and split. Little and often is best. If the soil is too dry, they will curl up and gnarl. In dry weather water every 3-4 days.

Weeds

Keep free from weeds or growth will be hindered. Carrot’s foliage creates shade preventing some weeds from growing.  Be careful not to disturb the foliage, weed by hand, the hoe is too heavy-handed.

Netting

I highly recommend covering your carrots with fine mesh netting. Pre-made mesh hoops are available or you can stick bamboo canes along the rows. Place the netting away from the leaves and leave plenty of space for the foliage to grow. Bury the edges of the netting in soil to prevent the carrot root fly penetrating.

Harvest and Storage

Harvest earlies in July. You know when they’re ready when they are 2cm wide on top. Maincrop are ready when they’re 4cm on top.

Water the day before to loosen the soil. To harvest hold the carrot tops and gently pull. If your soil is too heavy, you may need to loosen with a fork.

Harvest in the evening to prevent attracting carrot fly. Don’t leave carrots in the ground after they are matured as they will attract slugs and keep carrot fly larvae alive.

They can be stored over winter in a dry cold area. Place in a box of damp sand or peat. Don’t let the roots touch and let air into the box. Remove the leafy top and avoid storing any damaged carrots. If stored correctly they should last 4 to 6 months.

Freezing carrots

If you have too many carrots too eat you can always freeze them.  Carrots last for up to a year in the freezer.

  • Wash thoroughly and remove the green tops.
  • Cut the carrots to the size you desire
  • Bring a large pot of water to boil and add your carrots, return to boil
  • After two minutes remove and place in an ice bath
  • Drain and place in air tight freezer bag

Pests

The carrot root fly

The dreaded carrot root fly is the most common carrot pest. The fly is small and black with a yellow/orange head. They lay eggs on the soil and their larvae destroy the roots. A sign you’ve been attacked is reddish/brown leaves that are wilting. The carrots are rusted and rotten and when cut open may reveal maggots.

When carrot foliage is touched or bruised, it releases pheromones that attract the carrot fly. It can smell this for miles so try to avoid touching your carrots at all if possible.  The fly is most active throughout the day so carry out any thinning tasks or harvesting in evening or night.

The flies have two generations within the year. The first generation is in April/May  and second generation is in July/August. To avoid the first generation sow in the start of June

The carrot fly flies low to the ground, so building a tall barrier is an effective solution. Place a fine mesh along bamboo canes that reach over 70cm high. A more effective solution is covering them completely.

Rotate your crops each year to avoid infected soil. Don’t plant where celery, celeriac, parsnips, parsley or carrots have been in the previous years. You can kill the fly eggs with specific pest controls but prevention is far better than cure.

Slugs and Snails

Slugs can damage young seedlings. A telltale sign of slugs is a mucous trail on top of your soil. They appear in abundance in heavy rain. The most effective solution is picking them up in a bucket after dusk and transporting to a distant location.

Willow-carrot aphid

A yellow green aphid, it sucks the sap from the foliage and can transmit diseases to the plant. A sign of infection is distorted and discoloured leaves. It is most active during May and June.

Usually other insects destroy them before they become a problem. Blast them off with a jet of water or mix up a soapy spray solution.

Companion plants

Strong smelling plants are useful for confusing the carrot root fly. Rosemary, sage, Onions, leeks and garlic are great natural repellents. Chives improve the flavour and hinder flies so it makes them the perfect companion.

Plant radishes along with your carrots as they come to harvest before them and help loosen the soil. Beans and peas give nitrogen to the carrots, but remember to plant north-facing so they don’t block the sun. Tomatoes improve the flavour but can slow down their growth.

Avoid planting next to dill and coriander if you intend to save the seeds as they cross pollinate. Don’t plant next to parsnips and celery as they attract carrot root fly.

Carrot problems and questions

Carrots have split.  Carrots split are the result of over or under watering. You need to water lightly and regularly, never water-logging the soil.

Carrots are green on top. This is the result of sun exposure. If you see your carrots poking up from the ground cover them up with soil. Unlike with potatoes, it is not poisonous to eat but may taste bitter, cut off the top and eat the rest.

Carrots are deformed. The soil is probably too heavy or rocky for the carrot to penetrate. The carrots may have been planted to closely together.

How to tell if your carrots are gone bad? If your carrots are slimy, limp or rubbery they are past their best. Cut them up and throw them in the compost heap.

Cooking carrots

Prepare carrots by scrubbing or peeling. The carrot’s skin and just under the skin is full of nutrients. The leafy foliage can be eaten. Cut the carrot into ½ inch rounds.

Steam- Carrots take 15 minutes to steam. Boil a large pot of water and put the carrots over it in a steamer basket.

Boil– Carrots take 7-10 minutes to boil. Place carrots a pot of water covered ½ inch over and boil.

Roast– It take 20-30 minutes to roast. Toss with oil, season and place on a rimmed baking tray. They are done when easily pierced by a fork.

Find more vegetables with our Plant Encyclopedia.

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