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Daucus carota subsp. sativus

Carrots are descendants of Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota), a wild plant. We see a lot of it here in spring hedgerows. Daucus carota is itself probably descended from Daucus maritima, the seaside wild carrot. It’s impressive how many of our vegetables originate on the sea shore! (See the footnote at the end of the lesson.)

It has fibrous, white and thin roots with a woody core. This plant has been valued for its leaves and flowers, and the leaves of carrots are indeed edible.

  • Unless otherwise labelled, all carrots in these photographs are grown in no dig soil. I never loosen soil in any way for growing carrots, nor for any other vegetable.
Pretty rainbow carrots, sown in June and harvested on 3rd December from a no dig bed made in March, with compost on top of weeds and firm soil into which the carrots’ roots descended

Selective breeding started in Afghanistan thousands of years ago and resulted in larger white and purple roots. A new wave of selections in 16th century Holland created the orange carrot, perhaps for the House of Orange royal family.

Mid-June – intersowing carrot seed between rows of purple lettuce
The first harvest of Berlicum, 86 days from sowing – this bed had been covered for the past four weeks
Here you can see that the length of carrot roots can actually be longer than the body of their carrot

Carrots are in the Apiaceae family along with parsnips. In mediaeval Britain, the carrot was white and similar to parsnip, and they share many traits including pests. Other relatives are celery, celeriac, parsley, coriander, dill and fennel. All have flowers that hang in umbels, hence the family’s common name of umbellifer.

One more family member is cumin (Cuminum cyminum). I have grown and harvested cumin seeds, in the second summer after sowing the previous April. This illustrates both how umbellifers are biennial, and the extraordinary culinary value of this wonderful plant family.

24th July – cumin seedheads, from plants sown 15 months earlier in April and overwintered in the ground; we walked on these seedheads to extract a decent amount of seeds

Harvest period

  • Days from seed to first harvest: 70–90. The lower number represents summer harvests and also smaller carrots.
  • Two sowings in a year can cover most of your needs.

From a single sowing, you can see the quality of carrots changing every week. They start small and very tender, then become denser and larger.

  • Best climate is temperate but many are possible. In cool climates, make one sowing in mid to late spring. In hot climates, give plenty of water.

With healthy no dig soil there should be no problem of larger roots becoming woody. However, there still is the possibility of splitting, and there may be damage from pests.

A vibrant autumn harvest at the end of November – turnips, radish, celery and carrots
Late August – a selection of the more perfect roots of Nantes carrots, sown five months earlier
Type image caA selection of varieties – Nantes Milan, Honeysnax and Purple Haze; these were pulled on 22nd June, after being sown three months earlierption here (optional)

Why grow them

The flavour of homegrown carrots is just so different!

A man on one of my courses said it was carrots that got him keen to grow vegetables, after he had sown a few seeds in a pot of compost outside the kitchen door. He had never grown any vegetables before, and when he pulled the first carrot to eat he was simply amazed at how it tasted. He had never known such flavours in bought carrots, and I suspect that a majority of the population no longer has any inkling about the true taste and sweetness of carrots. They are missing it, and sadly do not know they are missing it!

  • Baby carrots when freshly pulled give you this experience very strongly.
  • Larger carrots continue to taste way better than most of what you can buy, plus they hold their texture and flavour when cooked (in a stew for example).
  • When grown in healthy soil, carrots store exceptionally well. From the two sowing dates I recommend, you can enjoy homegrown carrots to eat for three quarters of the year.

Suitable for containers/shade?

Carrots can grow in shade, just for smaller harvests.

They are very suitable for container growing. The amount of harvest will be in proportion to the container used, and you can be creative.

I was contacted by a gardener in Tasmania, who grows many carrots every year in an old bath. He fills it mostly with compost, also some soil and perlite.

  • Fill small to medium-sized containers with compost only, for maximum fertility. Just ensure that water is able to drain out freely.
  • Weed control is easy, but you may need to protect containers from scratching blackbirds. You could cover with a wire netting cover, stapled to a wooden surround which sits on top. Alternatively, you could use netting draped over such a structure, or fleece or mesh!
  • Compost used for growing two years of carrots (four to five plantings) is good to scatter as mulch in the garden, including on beds for vegetables. It has fewer nutrients but will be appreciated by soil organisms. Then use new compost in the container.
The difference between two carrot varieties, sown on 6th April: Nairobi F1 on the left, and Nantes on the right – the hybrid Nairobi is more vigorous, and possibly is growing better for being in a clay pot, with more air for the roots; the black pot has about one fifth less volume than the clay pot
See how the web of Nairobi F1 carrot roots have formed around the container – roots need air and you often see this in container plants, hence the invention of ‘Air-pots’ with holes around their sides


There are two classifications of carrots, although this is not strictly defined, and is more about being clear how different varieties perform.

  1. The first gives rapid growth in the spring and does not always grow big carrots, although they can grow large. Varieties include Amsterdam, Nantes, Chantenay and Paris Market – interestingly, all of French origin. Perhaps bred for the lucrative early market, in a country with an ideal climate for early carrots, before the use of polythene.
  2. The second is for later sowings, to grow large roots which store well through winter. They are denser and with a lower water content, hence they store in good condition.

My list of varieties just scratches the surface of what you may be able to buy and is to give you an idea of what to look for. In terms of flavour, I notice that the main improvements are from carrots being grown in good soil. Between varieties, I rarely notice huge differences.

Having said that, a tasting by Raymond Blanc and his chefs (as told to me) concluded that their Nantes carrots had the best flavour. That was in the gardens at Le Manor aux Quatres Saisons in Oxfordshire, UK.

  • Amsterdam Forcing grows thin, pointed carrots very quickly, and is mainly suitable for early harvest.
  • Chantenay carrots are half-length with broad shoulders and are quite quick to mature, so are useful for sowing at any time up to midsummer.
  • Nantes varieties have round ends and grow quickly, so are suitable for early carrots. They can also grow quite large and store reasonably well. There are many different varieties of these, and I favour Nantes 2 Milan.
  • Berlicum is like a larger version of Nantes. It can yield a huge harvest and the carrots store well, so I find it good to sow in early summer.
  • Autumn King grows pointed carrots which store well, as long as the variety has been well maintained.
  • There are many carrot varieties of different colours, and I find their flavour is often less rich. However that is a subjective observation, and they are rewarding to grow, at least for the amazing colours.
  • Heritage varieties can be fun to grow. However, my recent harvest of St Valery carrots illustrates how they are not necessarily being well maintained by seed companies. See what I mean in the photos below! Heritage is heritage for a reason: something better came along.
  • Bingenheimer in Europe produce good carrot seed and I find their Nantes Milan especially strong and reliable. I compared it to Nantes 2 Milan from Kings Seeds, and the latter grew larger leaves but smaller carrots, of a pale colour and more pointed – they were poor.
  • Hybrid varieties give decent results and I like Nairobi F1, a Nantes which reaches harvest size about two weeks before open-pollinated Nantes. The flavour and texture are good.
  • Sugarsnax F1 claims to be extra sweet but, for me, it had average sweetness, though it is pleasingly long and has good colour – see the photo below.
  • Round varieties, such as Atlas and Paris Market, grow quickly and are suitable for small containers, for small to medium amounts of carrot.
  • Some varieties claim resistance to root fly, but I have not found this to be the case here!
A strong 9 kg/20 lb carrot harvest at the end of June – these Nantes Milan carrots were sown 90 days earlier
5th July – Nantes Milan (left) and Sugarsnax (right) were sown 114 days earlier, and interplanted with Brussels sprouts 17 days earlier
Such disappointing St Valery carrots grew sadly short and with an unexpected range of contrasting colours, compared to the promise of the seed packet photograph

sow & propagate
Transplant - Size, time of year, Spacing, support
container growing
Prune and train plants/thin fruit
Harvest times and method
Potential problems


After the final harvest of a carrot bed, all you need to do is remove any small weeds and rake it level. After the last autumn carrots, and before winter, we spread 2.5/1 in of compost.

Still a few more large carrots to pull from the left-hand bed – you’ll notice the mesh has been rolled up to the far end for harvesting

Follow with

Your options depend on when the carrots are finishing, or which interplants you want to grow. In my example with Brussels sprouts, you could instead interplant with cabbage, kale, swedes, dwarf beans, or multisown leeks and beetroot.

Follow summer harvests with any of the above, also lettuce or chicory.


This extract is from Professor James Buckman’s book. (See also Lesson 22, Course 3B, on parsnips.)

In 1860 we gathered some seed of the Daucus maritima (sea-side carrot) at Bognor, which, on being sown in a prepared plot the following spring, certainly resulted in fairly succulent roots, which on being cooked were pronounced by our party of four to be excellent. While on this subject, it may be mentioned as not a little remarkable, that so many of[11] our garden esculents should be derived from sea-side plants. Thus, probably carrot, but certainly celery, sea-kale, asparagus, and cabbage. This would seem to point to the fact that cultivation requires a complete change of the circumstances necessary to maintain a wild condition; and hence cultivated plants can only be kept up by the labours of a cultivator.Now, as regards the sea-side carrot, we are after all inclined to the belief that it is the parent of the cultivated varieties, whilst, on the other hand, we view the Daucus Carota (the wild inland carrot) as a probable descendant from the cultivated or garden stock; and if this be so, the Daucus maritima is the original species from which both the wild and cultivated races have descended.

Science and Practice in Farm Cultivation, by James Buckman, F.L.S., F.G.S. late Professor of Geology and Rural Economy at the Royal Agricultural College (London: Robert Hardwicke, 192, Piccadilly. 1865.)