Carrots need stone free soil to prevent the roots from forking. Photograph: Melissa DiPalma/Alamy
Growing veg is mostly pretty simple. You stick something in the ground – a tuber, seedling, bush, whatever – you give it a bit of food and drink, and eventually you get something to eat. Some experts (though not this column, oh no) would have you working frantically come rain or shine, yet if you’re not making a living from the soil, you shouldn’t be obsessing about germination rates, yields per square metre and the rest of it.
Carrots, annoyingly, do require a little care. For a start, they need stone-free soil, or their roots will fork. If possible, this should also be light and deep, so you may have to do a lot of sieving before you can start planting, or make a raised bed. You’ll also have to make sure any compost or manure you add is very well-rotted, or you could again end up with forked roots.
Then there’s carrot fly, whose maggots will tunnel into your crop. Adults are attracted by bruised foliage, so plants must be treated with care and thinned as little as possible – ideally in the evening, when the flies are clocking off for the night – and by snipping off the greenery at ground level, rather than by pulling unwanted seedlings from the earth. You can also protect your crop with horticultural fleece, or surround it with a 60cm-high barrier to block the flies, which travel close to the ground.
If all this hasn’t put you off – and it shouldn’t, as homegrown carrots are so sweet and tasty – you can plant seeds directly into the soil from early spring to midsummer, and again (under cover) from mid-autumn to late winter. Water the soil well, after making shallow drills about 15cm apart. Along these, you want to end up with one plant every 5-10cm.
Seeds are tiny and cheap, but as you want to keep thinning to a minimum, you can’t just drizzle them on and sort things out later. A seed sower will help; you can pick up of these little devices for few quid. If you don’t make too many mistakes, smaller, sweeter “early” carrots, such as Paris Market, will be ready in 12-18 weeks; larger, longer “maincrop” varieties in 18-24.
Phil Daoust is a food writer based in England and France. Twitter: @philxdaoust