Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Grow crunchy, colorful carrots practically year round

Carrots come in a variety of beautiful colors

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Carrots, like turnips, have been around for thousands of years.  Its seeds were used for medicinal purposes.  Carrots likely originated in the Iran/Afghanistan area and spread to the Mediterranean.  It is shown in Egyptian tomb paintings from 2000 BC. The first records that it was used for the European kitchen was in the 900‘s in Spain.  Carrots were originally used mainly for livestock feed in the American colonies and for its aromatic leaves and seeds.

The first wild carrots were purple.  Today, the wild carrot is known as Queen Anne’s lace and has adapted very well in America.  The popular culinary orange colored variety did not become stable until the 1700’s.  It quickly became the most popular variety in both Europe and the colonies.  
Carrots are related to parsley, fennel, dill and cumin.  Like their cousins, the greenery also is edible.

All kinds of colors are now available-white (White Satin), red (Atomic Red), orange (the most popular in the US), yellow (Yellowbunch, Yellow Sun, YellowPak)), and purple (Purple Haze, Purple Sun, Purple, Deep Purple, Cosmic Purple, Purple Dragon).  There are also variety seed packets available so you can grow all the colors.

Carrots are rich in antioxidants, beta-carotenes, vitamin A, vitamin C, many B-complex vitamins like folic acid, B6, thiamin, pantothenic acid, as well as minerals like calcium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, copper.  For more details on their nutrition:  carrot nutrition info

Carrots like loose, well dug soil rich in organic matter although they will also grow in moderately rich soil with a wide pH range of 5.5-7.0..  The ideal soil would be loosened 6-10” deep and mixed with sand and compost.  The longer the root, the deeper the depth of loose soil needed to grow large, straight roots.

There are also shorter root varieties that can be sown if you do not want to dig that deeply or if you want to grow them in pots.  Some short varieties are Little Finger (4” long), Adelaide (the size of your pinky), Short n Sweet (4”), Thumbelina (1-1.5” diameter), Parmex (1.2-2” diameter), Tonda di Parigi (1.5-2” diameter).
Lettuce and lacy leaved carrots in a pot

Sow every 2 weeks March-August.  First plantings should be about 2 weeks prior to your first frost.  Carrots do not like to be transplanted so direct sowing is best.  Soak seeds 6 hours before sowing.  Sow 1/4” deep, 1/2” apart thinning to 2-4”.  Thinning is critical to having nice roots.  Keep evenly moist, do not allow to dry out, for the up to 14 day germination period.

I have used my Aerogarden for growing seedlings indoors prior to planting out into pots and have had good luck.  This year, I direct sowed into a pot and had a great germination rate.

Carrot seed is tiny.  There are a couple of techniques you can use to not sow too thickly.  You can mix 1/4 teaspoon with a gallon of sand and sow uniformly.  Another technique used is to mix radish seeds and carrot seeds together and sow.  The radishes come up quickly and are ready to harvest well before the carrots so you get 2 crops for the effort of 1.  Be sure that a hard crust does not form over the top of the seeds.  These seedlings are not strong enough to push through.  You can cover lightly with organic potting soil, vermiculite or compost.

For your last plantings of the season look for a type like Napoli, Autumn King or Nantes that can be harvested throughout the winter.  Merida can be planted in late September for an early spring harvest.  Frost actually makes the carrots sweeter so leaving them in the ground in the fall will improve their flavor.  The only barrier to winter harvesting is if the ground freezes solid.  

Giving the carrot patch a nice coat of straw and/or covering after reaching harvestable size with a gardening fabric like Reemay can keep the ground from freezing solid.  This type of floating cover can increase the temperature of the ground approximately 5 degrees and allows 75% light transmission while allowing air flow and rain through.  It can be placed directly on your plants.  Just place loosely and hold down the edges with mulch, rocks or a board.  You can use the row cover in the spring for protecting your plants from insects and even in summer for reducing sun scald.  It is very handy, but is lightweight so will only last a season or two.

If you want to bring indoors to store, placing in a cool place in sand that is kept moist is the best indoor long term storage for the winter.

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