For those of you who think all there is to grow a long exhibition carrot is to dig a bit of land and stick a few seeds in the ground, think again. There is a whole lot more to it than that if you want to stand any chance of winning prizes. I hope here to cover the best method simple enough for even a novice at exhibiting to understand, and would love to ultimately get feedback from anyone who tries these methods for themselves, especially if they then enter the resulting carrots in any local vegetable growing competitions.
Unless you are willing to dig your allotment to about four feet deep, your best bet is to grow your long exhibition carrots in raised beds, barrels or drums of a similar depth. carrots do not require much in terms of nutrient as this can tend to make their roots fork, so keep it simple and fill your planting area/container with a substance such as horticultural sand.
Now you will need to create boreholes in the sand using approximately a 3″ plastic drainpipe pushed down to a depth of about 4 feet, and then lift out the resulting core of sand before widening the top of the hole slightly. When growing in barrels space out the holes solely around the perimeter of the barrel and leave the center of the barrel free. In an allotment simply space out the holes as normal.
Next, you will need an appropriate mixture to fill in your boreholes with. A good mixture will include equal parts of the same sand used in the barrels or containers, moss peat (both sieved through a 1/8″ riddle). Added to this I suggest a combination of fine grade vermiculite, Calcified seaweed (Seagold or similar seaweed-based product), Sulphate of Potash, Superphosphate, Chlorophos (to protect against Carrot Fly) and lime in quantities appropriate to the volume of compost you are working with to fill your boreholes.
Crumble this mixture between your fingers to fill up each borehole, and then water in thoroughly before leaving to settle.
Next sow approximately 6 seeds per borehole (around mid-March to mid-April). Cover with about 1/4″ of compost and protect with horticultural fleece or polythene. Once the seeds are growing well select the weakest three and remove them leaving three still growing the borehole. A week or so later remove a further seedling leaving two, then ultimately, at the third true leaf stage, remove all but the strongest seedling, leaving that one to grow on. Remove the fleece around the beginning of May to June (after all danger of frost has passed). Continue to make sure the compost is right up to the tops of the carrots to avoid both green shoulders and flopped over seedlings resulting in twisted roots. Keep an eye out for greenfly, and if you spot them either spray or remove them by hand using a mild solution of washing up liquid and water.
All you need to do now is ensure the carrots are kept moist and weed-free, as well as nipping out any occasional side shoots that may appear in certain seasons (dependent on weather conditions).
When it comes around to the time you need to lift the carrots for exhibiting, scrape away the compost from the shoulders of the carrots first, then you can choose the best matches and leave the others in place for future shows. Once you have decided on your chosen specimens, water them well at least an hour before attempting to lift them. If at all possible stand over them when lifting to avoid the bottoms snapping off. Grasp the foliage firmly, and gently apply even pressure until you feel the carrot begin to come loose, (don’t force it or the bottom will snap). Keep applying the pressure until the carrots come completely loose and lift easily out of the borehole.
Next, rinse with a hosepipe, (hopefully this is all you will need to do). If this is not sufficient to clean the carrots properly use a sponge or soft cloth under running water to gently go around the circumference of the root, (not up and down the root). Ensure there is no dirt trapped between the foliage either, and if there is, use a soft brush such as a paintbrush or toothbrush to remove it. Pluck off the fine “hairy” roots that appear down the length of your carrot in order to leave a smooth specimen.
Trim the foliage down to approximately the amount that would fill the palm of your hand, (or as according to the schedule). Wrap in wet cloths, and then plastic bin liners, before storing in a cool dark place in order to take them to the show the following day. Ideally, transport them in a box laid flat, but if this isn’t possible make sure they cannot be crushed or damaged by anything else you are transporting at the same time.
Remember to change your sand at least every two years, if not annually.