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Nessgro - organic carrots in Scotland

On the coastal soils of the Moray Firth, in the shadow of the Grampian Mountains, Steven Jack continues his quest to grow the very finest organic root vegetables for discerning retailers. Each day, his company Nessgro works to produce delicious crops of carrots and parsnips that embody the natural freshness and flavour of the Scottish Highlands.

It’s not always easy. When you’re growing organic carrots, you can’t rely on chemicals to get rid of the bugs and rots. You have to be clever and cunning, and understand their biology. You need to know what they like and don’t like, when and where they breed, where they hang out and who eats what if you want to outwit them.
Take carrot fly for example. Adults have a wingspan of 12mm and the larvae (8-10mm) feed on carrot roots, making holes that often become infected with other rots and moulds, resulting in carrots no-one wants to buy. Steven knows that carrot flies aren’t strong fliers though, so by growing susceptible crops in a windy area he can make life very difficult for them.

Whilst carrots are their ultimate favourite food, the carrot fly is partial to munching on other plants in the same ‘Umbelliferae’ group that carrots belong to. That includes such common plants as cow parsley, for example. These grow in the hedgerows around the carrot fields and the carrot flies can overwinter in these plants quite happily until their favourite carrots are planted again the next year. Steven therefore makes sure he rotates his crops to a very careful schedule. In fact, only 1 year in 10 will see carrots in a field. This helps keep the naturally-occurring population low.

When it comes to reproduction, the carrot fly is no lazy performer. There are at least two generations per year – sometimes there are three. The first eggs hatch with the onset of warmer weather in May and June. Nessgro sow their carrots in May before any eggs hatch, then cover them with re-usable fleece as a barrier against the carrot fly entry. By the time the little plants emerge 4 weeks later, the majority of the first generation of carrot flies has hatched and moved safely onto other host plants in the hedgerows, having been fooled into thinking no delicious carrots lay beneath them.
For the second generation of flies emerging in August, new weapons are required. Steven puts sticky yellow traps (insects are attracted to the colour yellow) in the crops. Each week the number of flies trapped is counted to monitor populations. Once fly numbers are at a peak, it’s time to get out the garlic! This is because this is the time when egg-laying is happening and flies hate the pong of garlic. Garlic granules are applied to the growing crop straight away from July to the end of August, every week. Some people grow onions alongside carrots for the same reason – it masks the smell of bruised carrot foliage that attracts the flies.

Steven’s final advice in outwitting the carrot fly is to remember to take every last carrot out of the field at harvest time. “If we left a single carrot in the ground then we’d be providing a holiday home for carrot flies over the winter. We do everything we can to make this environment inhospitable for pests as part of our organic method. It sounds complicated, but it’s great to use such natural methods to grow a strong healthy crop, and there’s a great satisfaction when you know you’ve outsmarted your pest opponents!”

Steven farms on 120 hectares of fertile Scottish soil, with his own wash factory and packhouse on site too. His commitment to his customers and crops was rewarded with the prestigious industry title Grower of the Year in 2007 and Marks and Spencer’s Plan A Achievement  Award in 2009. Nessgro is also well-known for their superb crème coloured carrots and Chantenay carrots and their willingness to embrace new ideas and technology to grow more productively and to maintain the highest quality in all their activities.

Fact File

Crops:   Organic carrots, Chantenay carrots, parsnips and potatoes
Acreage:   60 hectares organic carrots, Chantenay and parsnips 60 hectares organic potatoes
Professional Memberships:   Assured Produce Soil Association Investors in People