Why is the lowly carrot the vegetable of the year? And if carrots, why mixed carrots?
There is no vegetable I eat more often than carrots. They are delicious in so many ways—boiled, roasted, mashed, steamed, grated, or in a stir fry. Best of all is a carrot pulled fresh from the soil with most of the soil wiped off on your shirt, and crunched down on in it, right in your garden. Their flavour is earthy and sweet. Purple carrots can be more intensely sweet while white and yellow carrots have a mildly delicious nutty flavour.
For many of us, when we think carrot, we think of the long orange vegetables that we get at the grocery stores but there are so many other colours and shapes and seeds are readily available for most of them. Dieticians encourage us to eat the rainbow and these carrots can provide the full rainbow.
The cultivated carrot is one of the most important root vegetables grown in the temperate regions. The earliest vegetable is known to be the carrot, dating from the 10th century in Persia and Asia Minor. They were quite unlike our orange rooted carrot of today and were originally purple or white with a thin root. A mutant occurred which removed the purple pigmentation resulting in a new race of yellow carrots from which our orange carrots were subsequently developed.
Growing carrots is relatively simple. Sow the seed as soon as the soil warms up in the spring. Carrots grow slowly so we can usually only get one crop but a second sowing can take place later in the year so you can enjoy baby carrots, late in the season.
Soil structure is essential. For long straight carrots, the soil should be sandy loam. Avoid rocky soil. If your carrot root hits even a small pebble, it will fork. They still taste delicious, but they are more difficult to harvest and do not look as attractive. Heavy clay soil is not a good choice either. They tend to grow more slowly and irregularly in dense soil. If you have a heavy soil, dig in lots of organic material to loosen it up. Use well rotted manure or compost. Nitrogen rich fertilizers as they also can cause forked roots, especially if it is applied around sowing time. Transplanting carrot seedlings can be another cause for carrot forking.
Sow your carrot seeds about 5 mm deep, covering them with loose soil or sand. Carrot seeds are tiny and slow to germinate, taking from 1-3 weeks. The seedlings grow slowly. I’ve had success planting radish seeds along with my carrot seeds. The radishes germinate and grow quickly, marking the carrot area and help to keep the soil from crusting over the carrots. They are fully matured in plenty of time for the carrots to grow. Because the seeds are so tiny, it is very easy to plant far too many seeds, too closely together. If using the square foot method, there should only be 16 seeds per square foot. As your carrots grow, you should thin them to about 5 cm apart. Mulch to keep the carrot’s shoulders from showing as they will turn green. Be sure to eat the carrots you pull out as you think. They are delicious.
Carrots can be harvested anytime. If you are harvesting for storage, they are best left in the ground until after a frost. They taste better. They will keep 2-4 weeks in the refrigerator and most of the winter in a root cellar or cold storage, layered in sand. Keep them away from apples and pears. Carrot tops are edible too and can be used much like parsley.
Written by Dale Odorizzi who is a member of the Lanark County Master Gardeners. Want to know more about the Master Gardeners group or ask a gardening question? Visit our website at www.lanarkmg.blogspot.com or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org