Tried any supermarket carrots lately? Kind of slimy when you take them out of the bag, aren't they? Kind of makes you thing, "Hmm, what have these been washed in?" As for when they're going off after a few weeks (and why do they keep so long in a plastic bag?) there's a rather nasty mushiness about the decay that has me feeling nervous. So why not take the bull by the horns and grow your own? If you ignore all the rules about what you should and shouldn't do (which, in reality, only applies to some semi-professional garden show entrant in Yorkshire) you'll be able to do it no sweat.
So here's the first rule to throw out the window: never add manure to your carrot bed prior to sowing seed. If what you're looking for are fat, sweet, juicy carrots, dig into your soil some well rotted manure and compost as far ahead as you can manage (even a fortnight ahead is good, but if you're running late, don't be concerned). Add a few handfuls of blood and bone and a scattering of lime. Sure, you'll probably find your some of your carrots are forked, but since when did that stop them going in the pot? The alternative, of course, and the more traditional method, is to sow carrot seed in a bed that has been manured in the previous year. This avoids the tap root of the carrot branching out in search of an especially delicious possie of fresher manure. I tried this once but was so nervous about my carrots not having enough to eat, that I spent half the summer watering liquid manure onto them.
Rule two to forget is: "make sure the soil is finely textured – no lumps or stones." Once again, this is for the vegie show competitor. A strong carrot is going to grow right through those clayish clumps and, if it can't, it'll go round them and the kids will probably win first prize in the school vegetable animal competition. And if you're holding an adult dinner party, some of those twisty numbers make for a great X-rated salad. If stones are a serious problem in your garden, grow the shorter rooted carrots. As for the fine texture of soil, when sowing seed it pays to finely crumble the top couple of centimetres of the seed drill, sow onto that, and then cover with the same fine mix.
Thinning is something I do take seriously because carrots don't like to be crowded. Thin once to leave about a centimetre between carrots and again, once the second thinnings are large enough to eat. The carrots you leave to grow on should have space enough between them to grow – well – as large as you hope they will. It's just a case of common sense.
Carrots grow into the winter in all but the most harsh conditions so leave them where they are for a fresh harvest. If you have any left over in spring, and need your garden space for another crop, dig them out and place them in a hole in the ground, covered with a damp sack or old piece of carpet. This will slow down their growth so you can keep using them until something else comes along to fill their niche.
If you do find that your carrots are getting woody towards the end of spring, or perhaps even drying out a little, whatever you do, don't throw them onto the compost. Instead, toss them into the juicer with an apple and a lemon and a few sticks of celery, and bingo, what a breakfast! Alternatively, use the recipe below to make the most fabulous soup – the sort that, once tasted, will have you rushing out to buy an extra packet of carrot seed!
Carrot and Coriander Soup
half a pot of carrot chunks
2 or 3 diced onions or shallots
a good slurp of olive oil or a knob of butter
Sweat the vegetables in a couple of centimetres of water (keep the lid on the pot) for twenty minutes, stirring to prevent sticking. Add enough water to just cover the carrots, and boil until soft. Attack with a wiz-stick or blend until a rich pulp forms. Thin with any of the following: water, a cup of stock, coconut milk, plain unsweetened yoghurt. Add finely chopped coriander (or the preserved, minced variety if necessary) and return to the heat for 15-20 minutes. Divine!
Tip: carrot seed are pretty tiny. To avoid sowing them too thickly, some people mix the seed with sand. Others swear by sowing them from a salt shaker!