Carrots are a lovable mainstay of all established vegetable gardens. It only makes sense considering that there is hardly a classic recipe without at least one carrot in the mix. Whether you’re adding a touch of sweetness to a bolognese, growing the star ingredient for a carrot cake or a carrot and coriander soup.
The versatility of carrots in recipes means that the less time you can spend on preparing them the better.
A long straight carrot is ideal for having pretty carrots to make into crudites and for reducing the amount of fuss they are to prepare for other dishes.
If you grow vegetables for a village show or your local town fete, growing long show carrots is a great way to cause a stir. Gardening is a wonderful pass time with a certain level of trial and error in every new plant and carrots are no exception, but a few tips can speed up the process considerably.
What Types Of Seeds Are Best To Grow Straight And Long Carrots?
The first thing to consider when you think about the size and shape of carrots is to decide which seeds to buy.
In a supermarket, you are probably used to seeing a few types of carrot. A ‘baby’ carrot, like a little cone-shaped chantenay carrot, no longer than three or four inches, or what we think of these days as a ‘normal’ carrot.
The reality is that because even most organic carrots are harvested by machines. This has narrowed down the varieties that you can buy outside of a farmers market. Even if a type of carrot is sweet, crunchy and delicious – if it snaps when harvested mechanically, then it will fall out of wide cultivation.
For folks into home gardening, this means you have a chance to massively improve on supermarket carrots by growing your own. Particularly long, thin carrots are prone to snapping if not harvested by hand.
Nantes Carrots are a great example of this, they are sweet with a mild, crowd-pleasing flavour. Especially with a little honey or some orange zest. The seeds are easy to come by in most gardening centers but there are some lovely variations as well. A Touchon demands a deep bed but is among the sweetest and juiciest varieties or try a Machester Table carrot which gives good all-around taste but also a great deep orange color.
You will want to stay well away from the lovely, but very short Paris Market carrots and Oxheart varieties.
To keep your carrots straight, you might consider balancing the maximum length you can achieve against a variety that is more tolerant of heavy soil.
There is not much point buying seeds for a variety that could, in theory, grow to 8 inches long, if your soil is simply packed with clay and they will only reach half that.
Nantes are a good variety to consider for this situation, they are relatively tolerant as carrots go. Preparing the growing space still goes a long way though, so don’t fall into the trap of treating any sort of carrot as though it will thrive just anywhere.
Where Is It Best To Plant The Carrots?
The next thing to think about is where you are going to plant your carrots. As with any gardening, certain places will suit carrots better than others.
Most carrots like to have some sun and you will want to sow them in rows that are about 10-14 inches apart. the seeds need to be about one inch below the surface, remember the root will go down much further if all goes according to plan but the warmth from the sun needs to reach the seed.
As soon as the earth is warm enough to work, you can begin preparing the space to grow your longest, straightest and best carrots.
Carrots aren’t overly complex but they do like to make you sweat. Literally, if you are planning to plant your carrots in a normal garden bed then you will want to get out your garden fork.
Carrots like to have fine, well tilled soil in order to grow straight. If the root is growing downwards and it hits a heavy clod of soil or a thick lump of clay then the root will split or stop growing.
This the kind of scenario which will buy you a perfectly edible carrot that is none too pretty, think an octopus crossed with a mandrake root. Not ideal.
The same problem will come up if your carrot bed is full of rocks, those natural obstacles won’t stop your ‘carrot’ plant from growing lovely feathery leaves but you will be left wondering what happened when harvest time comes around. The same disappointing results can come from a bed full of old roots from a bush or tree. Carrots need a space free of obstacles.
Make The Perfect Conditions For The Carrots To Grow
If that list of problems seems daunting, because there is hardly a single garden bed in existence that doesn’t have some rocks, roots or clods of soil, then don’t panic.
It isn’t necessarily about having a perfect bed for carrots at the outset. The first thing to do (unless you are going no-dig gardening) is to get your garden fork and start breaking up the soil as much as possible.
You want the soil to get to an even, easy draining, consistent point and to sieve out any large lumps. Either break them up and dig them back in or if they are rocks or roots, find them a new home.
The process of tilling the soil to a fine tilth should help you work up a bit of a sweat. Once that has been done, you have some thinking to do. What quality does the soil have?
Carrots like well drained soil that is neither too rich nor very poor. If it seems very rich with lots of well rotted organic matter then you may want to consider adding something to lighten it up like fine horticultural sand and dig that in thoroughly.
You could also consider using perlite of vermiculite for this purpose, their hollow structure lightens up the soil structure. Some gardeners swear by using an old potato bed, the potatoes break up the soil and make it easier for a root crop to flourish as well as the fact that crop rotation is desirable.
Containers vs. Beds vs. Raised beds
You might think that sounds laborious and like you would like to cut out the need to go through the soil for any debris that might be lurking in there to ruin your straight carrots.
If so containers could be the best way for you to grow carrots. You’ll need a tub or trough that is at least 12 inches deep to avoid your carrots hitting the bottom and forking in response. Carrots need to be direct down, a couple of inches apart to minimise the need for extensive thinning later on.
The job of assessing the kind of medium and nutrition your carrots need is still a priority with container gardening. You will want to make a mix of compost, top soil and sand, perlite or vermiculite. The bulk should be made up of top soil with roughly even amounts of sand/perlite and compost.
You could also reduce the amount of compost and substitute in some bone meal. It is important not to buy compost that has plant food in it, most generic plant food has too much nitrogen in it and will not help you get long roots.
Final Thoughts And A Piece Of Good Advice
The last thing to think of with a container is to make sure that there is plenty of drainage in the container. If you are working with a terracotta pot or trough, make sure there are plenty of holes built in.
With a plastic or wooden planter, you can drill more holes in according to what you think your carrots need. Waterlogged soil is to be avoided at all costs.
If anything err, on the side of drying out the carrots slightly. Most varieties will tolerate a little drought but you can’t have lovely carrots in a constantly drenched pot. Carrots love routine, so water them on a schedule if you tend to forget when you last watered.
A great route that many people see as the happy medium is a raised bed. For getting long, straight carrots it has some major advantages. If you raise the sides of your bed by six inches, that is six extra inches of depth for your carrots to grow in before they hit ground level and obstacles.
You don’t have to spend as much as you would on a container of the same size because you are just supplementing the soil that is already in situ, rather than needing to buy it all in.
To get the best raised carrot bed assess your existing soil, till it to a depth of about six inches, remove larger clods and rocks but you won’t need go over it with a fine tooth comb as much as planting into ground level soil.
This is because you are going to put on the raised side to your bed if it is a new bed and then add a similar mixture to the one described above for containers. Approximately 50% top soil, 25% sand, 25% compost. Get the right medium, variety and treat them consistently and long, straight carrots will be yours.