There’s no vegetable that tastes better than a sweet, orange carrot freshly plucked from the soil. Rich in vitamins B1, B2, C and particularly carotene (pro-vitamin A), they are a “high in demand vegetable.” Your bank account will definitely thank you.
Choosing your carrots
Orange carrots are usually the traditional standard in Zambia, but you can also get them in crimson, yellow, white and even purple. But there’s more to choosing carrots than colour. You have to have the correct root size and shape to suit your soil. There are five major categories of carrots. Slender Nantes and Imperator carrots need deep, loose soil while Chantenay, Ball-type, and Danvers carrots can handle heavy or shallow soil.
Preparing your soil
Before you plant your carrots, ensure that soil surfaces is cleared of trash, rocks and large pieces of bark. You can mix finer pieces of plant material into the soil for enrichment. Start out with soil that will help your carrots grow. The best soil for carrots is deep sandy loam or well-drained loam. The best thing about sand is that it’s easier to clear at harvest. Whereas, heavy, stony or poorly-drained soil can cause deformed roots. Also, try to avoid very light soils which the wind can blow away. The wind blown sand can easily damage your young carrot plants.
Till or dig up the area where carrots will be planted. Make sure the soil is tilled up to soften and aerate the ground to make it easier to grow carrots long and straight.
- Heavy soils cause the carrots to mature slowly and the roots will end up unattractive and rough.
- Rocky soil leads to poor quality roots.
- Do not work compost or manure into the soil just before planting. Rich soil can lead to excessive leaf growth and forked, hairy, rough roots.
- Carrots don’t grow well in very acid soils. So, remember to take a soil sample for pH and nutrient analysis and apply fertilizer and/or lime appropriately.
- Insufficient soil moisture results in a longer, thinner root, while very wet conditions give rise to a lighter colour.
Planting your carrots
Carrots can be tricky to grow. The best temperature for plant growth is between temperatures of 16°C to 22°C. Your carrots can have poorer colours at temperatures below or above this range. Also, when the temperature is too high, the roots tend to be shorter with less flavour.
To prepare the planting bed, loosen the soil to at least 30cm deep. Plant your seeds about 1cm deep and 6cm apart, in rows spaced at least 25cm apart. Carrots grow very well in double or triple rows.
Carrot seeds can take anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks to begin germination.
- Gently mulch to retain moisture, speed germination and block the sun from the roots.
- Once plants are about 3cm tall, thin so they stand 10 to 15 cm apart, depending on the variety’s mature size. Snip them with scissors instead of pulling them out to prevent damage to the roots of remaining plants.
- Water at least one 2cm per week.
- Weed diligently.
Fertilize 5-6 weeks after sowing.
Crowded carrots will produce crooked roots. So, don’t forget to thin your plants.
Harvesting your carrots
So, how do you know when your carrots are ready to harvest? Considering the fact that you can’t see them. There are a few things to look out for. Firstly, carrots are usually ready to harvest two to three months after planting. Most notably, the tops will be thick, bright green, and about 20 to 25cm long. Also, remember to check the base of the stem. Here the carrots will look thick. However, if you planted them too closely, some will be smaller than others. When you harvest, use a digging fork to loosen the carrots from the soil to prevent breakage.