Vegetables

Atlas Carrots

Golf-ball sized Atlas carrots on a plate in the sink

I’ve been growing Atlas carrots for the past two years now and I have to say that I’m not sure I’ll ever grow another long carrot again. Atlas carrots are shaped and sized like a golf ball, and are a Paris Market (sometimes Parisian Market) type carrot, so called because they were made famous by being sold in the markets in Paris. Sometimes, naming really is that simple! They were bred for all of the same benefits that we find in them today – fast, easy growth, ability to grown in shallow soil, so they could be easily grown in the market gardens.

I grow my Atlas carrots in relatively small, shallow and narrow containers. I admit that I haven’t grown mine from seed, but from seedlings from the garden centre, and this means that I end up with around seventy carrots. I read everywhere that seeds should be sown directly where you’ll be growing them, which would be a great idea in an ideal world, but given that I’ve bought seedlings both years and had success, this doesn’t seem to be the end of the world. This year I suffered a little with bolting, which makes them become quite woody and impossible to eat; I think this was due to a combination overcrowding (lesson learnt) and weird weather .

Small containers for growing Atlas carrots - most have been harvested already
Excuse the tape holding my greenhouse together – small containers for Atlas carrots. Most of these have been harvested already!

Having said that, these carrots are quite easy to grow and are perfect if you have limited space – perhaps you want to grow some vegetables on a balcony, for example – of if you have heavy soils, stony and clay-type. The short roots means they often find it easier going in these soils than regular long carrots. They take about two months to ripen and, as ever, if you want a long harvest, you’ll need to think about succession planting – that’s sowing every couple of weeks to the middle of summer for these. I always have great intentions about succession planting and never do it!

If you have children, these are ideal for them to have a go at growing in containers and the carrots are lunchbox size AND sweet. Plus, let’s be honest, who doesn’t love the novelty of a round carrot? That’s all I bought it for in the first year.

There are plenty of resources that will tell you all about how to plant carrots, but my top tips are to try to avoid thinning if you can or if you do thin, make sure you remove the thinnings immediately, as the smell of them attracts carrot fly! I’m told you can add thinnings to salads early in the season – I’ve never done that, but my neighbour highly recommends. You can also earth up the tops once they’re maturing to avoid those lovely (not-really-lovely) green crowns.

Did you know that all modern hybrid carrots come from four main varieties, which were being bred by the Dutch in the 1700s? No, neither did I. Back then, carrots were suggested as medicine for ailments as distantly related as putrid wounds, kidney stones and even breast cancer! Needless to say, by the late 1700s, it had been worked out how to distill spirits from carrots, with the cost being outweighed by being able to use the leftovers for animal feed. The human dedication to turning everything into booze never fails to surprise.

I hope you all enjoy having a go at growing some Atlas carrots either next year, or this year – I’m writing at the start of July and there’s still time if you’re quick!

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