Carrots are emerging as a crop of choice among many smallholder farmers due to their affordable management schedules, quick maturity and high returns with a kilo retailing for as much as Sh80.
The crop grows well in cool to warm climate although it’s recommended that they are grown in temperatures ranging from 15 to 20 degrees and very high temperatures result in pale carrots with shorter roots and poor flavour. In order to get the best quality, a farmer is advised to plant them in deep, well drained, well prepared loamy soils that allow the roots to penetrate and swell. Soils with a PH of 6.5-7.5 are suitable for their growth and one should note that it is a very sensitive crop to acidic soils. If the PH is lower than 5.5 it is advisable to apply moderate amounts of rock phosphate fertilizers to reduce acidity.
Carrots are planted directly into seedbeds and the right spacing must applied in order. Too much closeness causes overcrowding ultimately leading to poor yields. Per hectare, use about 6-7 kilograms of carrot seeds. The soils must be well prepared and the seeds inserted at about one centimeter deep in the soil and a spacing of about 20 to 30 centimeter apart.
Weeding is advised to commence 2 weeks after planting the crop and this is the same period where a farmer is advised to thin the crops in order to provide enough space to grow well. The second weeding is advised after about five weeks of planting although it may be initiated earlier depending on the emergence of weeds. The crop do not need much space and therefore ideal for intercropping with a number of crops like lettuce, tomatoes, capsicums, leek among others.
The best ideal intercropping symbiotic model is planting them together with leek. When they are intercropped, carrots can drive away worms from leeks while leeks help repel flies from the carrots. They need frequent rains and in case the rains are unreliable constant irrigation is recommended with the rate of irrigation depending on the type of soil in question.
Due to their poor water retention capacity, sandy soils require more water than loamy soil. The crop is susceptible to pests like aphids, root-knot, nematodes, cutworms, African army worm among others. They are also affected by fungal diseases like powdery mildew, leaf blight among others. In order to avert the pests and diseases, rotational farming is advised although if they are infested by the pests and diseases spraying is recommended. In addition, farmers are advised to observe hygiene while planting, use resistant hybrid seeds and ensure carrot seeds are certified disease-free. The maturity period for carrots ranges between 2-3 months after planting depending on the variety in question.
It is advisable to begin harvesting when the roots are soft and juicy and if a farmer takes long to harvest, the resultant crops are of less quality because they crack. The crop is pulled from the soil manually with the hand or using a spade. Trim the tops completely to avoid storage rots and mature carrots that pests and disease free can be stored for 100-150 days when the leaves are completely removed. They are stored at cool temperatures 1-4 degrees centigrade. The most common varieties in Kenya include Chanetany, Nantes and Oxheart. However, Nantes is preferred by most farmers because of its deep orange colour and sweet taste. It also has a longer shelf life and can be grown in all seasons.