Monday, October 24, 2011

Carrots: another easy garden veggie

Multicolored carrots.  Picture from Wikipedia. 
Carrots are one of the easiest cool season garden veggies and just about everyone likes carrots to some degree.  For the beginning gardener, carrots should be one of the first plants you try out.  In my experience, they are relatively pest free, can be grown in abundance in even a small area, don't require lots of water, and are overall very low maintenance.  About 1200 years ago carrots were first domesticated in the mountains of modern day Iran and Afghanistan.  These original carrots were not the nice long orange roots we think of Bugs Bunny eating.  Rather, they were thick, often branching roots and were purple, red, or yellow.  Overtime, the single long carrot root was developed by farmers and gardeners.  Orange roots didn't, however, develop until about 300-400 years ago in Europe.  Today, most carrot varieties are single rooted and the most common is obviously orange, but red, yellow, white, purple, and various shades in-between still exist.  Today, multicolored carrots are most common in the Middle East.  Carrots are very healthy both raw and cooked.  They are loaded with far more vitamin A than our bodies can absorb, only 3% is absorbed when eaten raw while 39% when cooked.  Carrots also are a healthy source of calories.

Of course, as children we were all told that if we ate our carrots we would be able to see in the dark.  Unfortunately, this is not true even though vitamin A does help eye site.  The connection of carrots to night vision was developed during World War II by the British armed forces.  In order to trick the Germans, and cover-up their discovery of radar for detecting and shooting down German bombers at night, the British military spread rumors that they fed their gunmen huge quantities of carrots.  As the rumor went, the carrots improve their night vision so they could see German bombers in the dark and shoot them down.  The gunmen probably never ate large quantities of carrots, but the rumor did fool the Germans and covered up the British discovery of radar.  Even after exposing the rumor after the war, the myth still exists today!

Great website with everything you ever wanted to know and more about carrots: 

Like I said before, carrots are so easy to grow every garden should have an abundance of them.  The great thing about carrots is that to grow large amounts of them you do not need large amounts of space.  Carrots can easily be spaced about one per square inch, which means potentially 144 carrots could be grown per square foot.  That's a lot of food!  Potentially about eight pounds of carrots in one square foot under the right conditions!  I would like to see some experiments or contests seeing how to grow the most carrots in the least amount of space.  This would be quite interesting and an experiment anyone could do.  Fortunately, carrots are not extremely pick about the soil they are planted in.  As long as the soil is relatively rich with organic matter, relatively loose, and lacks rocks the growing tubers will be happy.  Soils that are dense, rocky, or waterlogged are not good for carrots.  Luckily, you can modify your soil by loosening it, adding compost, or by adjusting drainage and watering.  Also, carrots will grow well in containers if they are deep enough for the root to penetrate.

When planting carrots think cool season.  Here in the Sonoran Desert we can plant carrots from October through early April.  Further north they can be planted a few weeks before the last frost or very late summer.  The great thing about planting carrots is that their tops can withstand temperatures as low as 25 degrees and can overwinter under snow to be harvested in early spring.  Very few plants are as resilient to freezing temperatures.  As a result of this, carrots are also excellent keepers and store extremely well in the refrigerator or cellar for many months.  Also, when planning on growing some carrots, search online for various colors which can make growing at least a little more exciting.  I have grown every color of carrot I know of and found purple and orange grow the best in my soil in the desert.  Other colors may grow better elsewhere though, so test it out.  Each color also has its own distinct taste, though they all still taste like carrots though.  My favorite tasting carrots are also the purple and orange but I know plenty of people that prefer the other colors.  Another thing to try out for yourself!

How to grow carrots:
1. Determine when to plant.  Remember carrots are a cool season plant so they should be planted early spring or very late summer to early fall.  Check your local extension office planting calender.

2. Get your soil ready.  Loosen it up and add compost to about ten inches deep.  Make sure their are not rocks, which will result in deformed your carrots.

3. Planting carrot seeds.  Carrot seeds are tiny so only plant then about 1/4 inch deep at the most.  They can be sown and then gently raked into the soil also.  I find it easiest to sow lots of seeds and then thin them out to about one per square inch after they germinate.  Carrots can take a long time to germinate, so make sure the soil stays moist and wait patiently.  Germination may take up to 20 days or longer in cool conditions.

4. After germination, thin carrots out and water as needed.  Carrots do not need tons of water and do not like waterlogged soil, so beware of over watering.  Often, the surface may look dry so stick you finger into the soil a half inch or so to see if it is wet and in need of watering.

5.  After about 90 days the carrots will be ready to harvest.  Carefully, you can dig around the edges of the root a little and pull the carrot out.  Then all you have to do is rinse them off and store them in a cool place!

One of the things I love about gardening is the ability to "scientifically" test out how to grow things and find what grows best.  Then, mixing this information with growing things you love to eat!  Growing different varieties of carrots is a great way to mix the science with taste!

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