The one vegetable, other than cauliflower, that has evaded my attempts to grow successfully has been carrots. My allotment is on fairly heavy and damp clay, slugs and carrot fly are rife and carrots that have survived the slugs have ended up being eaten by carrot fly or generally feeling a bit sorry for themselves in the cold damp clay.
Last year however I decided to turn the wettest part of the plot in to a giant raised root vegetable bed filled with fairly sandy topsoil. The carrot I decided to grow was Chantenay Red core. First developed in 1891 in France, Chantenay have a good reputation for flavour. There are two distinct varieties, red core and Royal. Red core have a redder core and blunter tip than Royal but are otherwise very similar.
I was very happy with the red core this year, definitely the most successful I have grown. You might see varieties listed as just plain Chatenay red cored or with a 2 or a 3 after. There is not much difference between them, just different breeders selections.
In the kitchen
Chantenay carrots have some of the finest flavours of the carrot world and alongside their smaller size means they are best suited for lightly steaming or boiling for 7-10 minutes, or roasting (20-30 minutes) rather than bulky soups or juicing. You can grate them raw for coleslaw and salads.
Yield and Plant Health
Chantenay are not one of the highest yielding varieties being fairly small (harvested usually at about 1-3 inches long) and cannot be sown as early nor are as fast growing as Nantes types so you may not be able to get as many sowings in but their yields are still good. However being one of the shortest makes them good for growing in shallow soils and raised beds. Chantenay store well once harvested. They are not resistant to carrot fly.
Carrots need a sunny spot with very friable stone free soil. If you are on a heavy clay then consider growing stump rooted varieties or growing in raised beds or containers. Your soil should not have been manured the previous year as that can cause forking.
Early varieties can be direct sown in February although they will do better under fleece. Later viariets can be sown in March through to July. Sow very thinly, 1 cm deep in rows 20cm apart. Although once germinated carrots will need little watering, do not allow rows to dry out until the seedlings are up.
Once seeds have germinated thin to 1 every 5 cm. Remove the thinking’s as the smell can attract carrot fly.
Carrots will not need much watering other than in very dry conditions. I do give them a bit of a mulch as they start to bulk up to stop the tops going green if exposed to light which can cause bitterness.
Harvest early varieties from May and later varieties June to October, about 12 weeks after sowing. In hotter parts of the UK you may be able to overwinter carrots, especially if kept under a layer of straw. For areas with heavy or prolonged frosts the usual process to store carrots is to harvest in October and store in slightly damp sand or coir in a cool dark place such as a garage or cellar. If you want to store your carrots grow main crop carrots like Autumn King.
Carrot fly is a pest that lays eggs on the carrots and the larvae burrow in to the carrot causing damaged and unsightly carrots. The flies find the carrots by smell so some recommend growing smelly vegetables like onions and garlic alongside or smelly herbs and flowers like lavender or marigolds. Very fine insect mesh will keep them off and if you can erect a barrier a foot or more high they are not supposed to fly very well. However many people say that no-one has told their carrot fly that. If the flies really are driving you crazy there are two resistant varieties called Flyaway and Resistafly even they are not completely immune though. Carrot fly is most active in April/May and then again July/August so if you can avoid thinning during that time it is less likely to attract them.
Slugs and snails can damage young sowings so applying nematodes in early spring is beneficial.