So which one is the weed anyway?

If I have a most hated vegetable to grow, it has to be the carrot.

Every year I ask myself why I am growing one of the cheapest vegetables available – and one of the only ones that seems to consistently fail without my undivided attention.  Who would have thought such an ordinary vegetable could be so precious.

But carrots are such an essential part of so many recipes, and so delicious when just pulled out of the ground, that I try, year after
year, to sow a small patch of carrots which inevitably becomes a small patch of weeds before any of the tiny carrot seedlings see the light of day.

Then, out of the blue, last year, success!  I actually managed to cultivate what could be described as a reasonable crop of carrots.
Buoyed by my success, and congratulating myself as an experienced veg grower, I happily sowed a patch of carrots this year, only to find, on peeling back the fleece cover, yet another patch of weeds.

I wasn’t prepared to give up, however, and painstakingly weeded the whole area, finding, to my surprise, that quite a few of the tiny
seedlings are actually coming through.  Not only is this a laborious task, however, it also involves knowing exactly which
of the thousands of tiny seedlings coming through happens to be the carrots, something that only comes with experience (and sometimes not even then.)


Emerging carrot seedlings (and some weeds)

But I think I know where I have gone wrong, both now and in
the past, and with this in mind, here are my tips for the beginner gardener
keen to try carrots:

1.  Choose a weed free bed.  For beginners especially, this, to me, is by far the most important tip.  It means knowing exactly what was growing in the soil beforehand.
Any bed where annual plants, weeds or not, have been grown the season before should not be used for carrots.  When preparing the bed, dig out every trace of perennial root, and dig in lots of sand.  When I thought about what had been grown in my bed the year before my splendid carrot success, I realised it had been potatoes, which had stopped the progress of annual weeds with their broad foliage, and had been thoroughly dug out afterwards.  Yes, weed seedlings will still appear, blown over by the wind, but the problem will be much reduced.

2.  Avoid carrot fly.  I say this because gardening books say it.  Personally, I’ve never had an issue with it, but then I’ve always grown a resistant variety (like resistafly) and protected the crop with fleece.  For protection, fleece is cheap and it works provided there are no spaces, but a carrot fly barrier if you have time to build one (I never do) makes weeding easier.  You can also buy an expensive mini polytunnel but you’d probably be cheaper buying three years’ supply of carrots.

3.  Grow in a raised bed, or grow a baby variety in pots.  By far my greatest successes have been with the variety sugarsnax grown in large containers.  You can also use them to surround flowers in containers, as their foliage sets of the blooms nicely.

4.  Weed regularly after sowing.  There’s no getting away from it, but it is one of the few crops where it is better to hand weed.  The tricky bit for the new gardener is learning to recognise the difference between carrot seedlings and weeds, especially if, like me, you have lots of wild carrot growing rampantly all over your garden.  A good way to do this is to sow some seeds in a small pot near your bed, and when the seedling comes through, you can compare it to the ones in the big bed.  Pictures can help, but there’s no substitute for looking at the real thing.

5.   Sow late.  This gives you time to hoe off the first flush of annual weeds.  The later, dryer weather (fingers crossed) should mean that weeds don’t come through as quickly as they do in early spring, and there is less risk of carrot fly damage.  This year I’ve made an early and a late sowing, both of resistafly, and will be interested to see if they are more successful than the first.

6.  Give up and buy carrots instead.  If all fails, don’t despair.  After all, they’re cheap!  But if you’re like me, and have ever tasted a freshly grown carrot, you won’t be able to resist having a go at growing your own. 

I would love to hear your thoughts about this post