Fresh is best - taste a newly dug carrot and see what I mean. These delicious gems come in lots of different shapes and colours - orange, red, yellow and black.

Carrots are crammed with vitamins and other health-giving nutrients. Originating in Central Asia, they’ve long been grown throughout Europe, initially for their leaves and seed, but now of course for their tap roots. The smaller the final size of the root, the quicker it will mature, so you can harvest stump rooted Paris Market after only 90 days, while long elegant ones take another month.

Clearly the longer and straighter the roots, the better, so unsurprisingly breeders have been focussing on developing this. Yet few of us grow for the show bench, given the motley, often rude, contortions we create. But perhaps we should have more confidence in our horticultural prowess. Last year at a village show, I spied one multi-rooted little disaster proudly flaunting its fine red card, but then noticed it had no competitors.

You probably can’t avoid the odd oddity, but you can have fewer by following a few simple rules.

Carrots will produce unpeelable shapes after root disturbance. If you start them off in pots, modules or root trainers transplanting can be problematic. Backfilling large enough holes while supporting the collapsing root ball is tricky.

Direct sowing is much safer. Choose a sunny spot. The crop needs fine, almost sandy, well-drained, moderately fertile and moist soil. Once the soil temp. reaches 10C, you can get started by preparing the ground to a trowel’s depth and start sowing.

Use the edge of a hoe or rake to mark out the dreel, or row, no deeper than about 1cm. or simply use your finger to mark out a short dreel. Leave 15cm between dreels. Water before sowing and then spread seed thinly along the dreel, then cover with crumbly soil. Tamp down with a rake.

And remember, people aren’t the only ones to relish the leaves: be vigilant because it would take only one hungry mollusc to scoff the lot at one sitting. Trap and/or use organic slug pellets and do the odd evening patrol if you can face it.

The seed is very shallowly planted so water regularly to prevent a dry crust forming on top of emerging seedlings. Once they’ve emerged you can limit watering to dry weather.

Carrots do need protection against carrot rootfly. Although you get some protection by using ‘Flyaway’ or ‘Resistafly’, I always use an insect mesh barrier. A cloche is possible, but I find it harder to keep an eye on the crop, checking for watering and weeding. So I swear by a vertical 60cm high mesh barrier. You might get an occasional fly blown over the ‘wall’ but you can’t win everything all the time.

For good succession, sow stump rooted varieties like ‘Paris Market’ or Chantenay types. You can lift and store maincrop varieties to prevent frost damage to carrot shoulders during winter. But I reckon life’s too short for that and leave ‘em in the ground till needed.

The Herald: Wood anemoneWood anemone (Image: free)

Plant of the week

Wood anemone, Anemone nemorosa, is a plant of woodland and former woodland with white, 5 petalled flowers. Low growing and with pretty foliage that forms a mat as the plants spread.

Wood anemones like the semi-shaded, moist but well drained conditions found in deciduous woods. In a garden they can be planted under trees or in borders where later summer plants will shade them from hot sunshine. They are poor competitors with coarse grasses.