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Alaska to Africa, carrots are loved everywhere. Heck, it's no surprise.
Carrots are nutritional heroes and they easily adapt to recipes. Plus,
as a garden crop, carrots are right up there with tomatoes, corn, and
But growing carrots takes time and patience, which puts some gardeners
over the edge. Not to worry. Here are some growing tips, recipes and fun
history and folklore to help you appreciate--and maybe rediscover--this
It's easy to see why carrots are such champions. They have more carotene
than any fruit or vegetable. (Carotene is what the body converts to vitamin
A). And carrots are an excellent source of vitamins B, C, D, E and K,
as well as calcium pectate. Calcium pectate is an extraordinary pectin
fiber that has cholesterol-lowering properties.
have a colorful past
Red, black yellow, white, purple, green--these were the colors that carrots
started out with. Everything but orange. Carrots were first cultivated
in Afghanistan in the 7th century, and they started with yellow flesh
and a purple exterior. They first carrots weren't even cultivated as a
food crop. They were grown as medicine.
Time passed, and the fascination with carrots continued. Finally, in
the 1600's, the Dutch developed the orange carrot. But it was the French
horticulturist, Vilmorin-Andrieux, who took the
stubby, Dutch carrot and improved it even more. Working with the common
wildflower Queen Anne's lace, he cultivated and selected plants over a
4-year period, finally producing a thick, elongated, bright orange root.
Somewhere along the line, the carrot traveled to England. During that
time, they were coveted for their tops, and no well-dressed English woman
would be seen without lacy carrot leaves decorating her hair. In the kitchen,
carrot juice was used to improved the color of churned butter. Carrots
finally made it to the New World, no doubt by boat, thanks to the English.
to grow and enjoy Bugs Bunny's favorite food
I've collected a variety of tips--some you know, and some will be new.
Let's go out to the garden...
- Keep it cool, man
- As a root crop that thrives in cool conditions, it's best to sow
carrots early in the spring in temperate climates, or in the fall or
winter in sub-tropical areas. Carrots are a biennial plant, which means
that it completes its life cycle in two years. During the first year,
it stores food (the root) to prepare for what it will need to produce
flowers and seeds in the second year. Alas, carrots don't get to experience
the second year very often because we harvest them before they reach
California dubs itself "The Carrot Capital of the World."
- The long and short of it
- Along with different colors, carrots come in a variety of shapes.
There are golf ball carrots (Thumbelina) and the squatty Chantenays,
which are good for containers and heavy soils. Incidentally, short carrots
mature faster, which makes them ideal for young gardeners.
Now I won't pretend to be familiar with every carrot variety. In the
past few years, dozens of new carrots have been introduced. Below, I've
listed a few sources that provide an terrific assortment of sizes, shapes,
and colors, as well as storage and juicing characteristics. Grow more
than one variety to see which one performs best in your garden. Meanwhile,
the old standbys such as Nantes, Imperator and Danvers, and Danvers
Half Longs are suitable for most soils. If you're after color, Danvers
Half Long and Royal Chantenay are bright orange, while Scarlet Nantes
and Blaze (an Imperator) are deep orange, almost red.
- A stone's throw
- Carrots love any good garden soil. Loose, deep, rock-free soil with
good moisture-holding capacity is what you need. Also, raised beds are
a natural for raising carrots. Oh, and as you might have guessed, the
fewer the rocks, the better. If you're beseiged with rocks, start by
removing the biggest ones. Then, turn in plenty of well-aged manure,
compost, shredded leaves, seaweed, sand, peat moss--whatever's available
to fluff up your soil. Break up any stubborn clumps.
- Sowing made simple
- Carrot seeds are so small, a teaspoon holds 2,000 seeds. Most instructions
will tell you to sow six seeds per inch, but that's easier said than
done. To make life easier, empty the seeds onto a sheet of paper. Pinch
it along one side to form a creased wedge. Then just tap out the seeds.
Or, you can sow pelletized seed or seed tapes, which are strips of paper
with the seeds spaced at regular intervals. The tape eventually dissolves,
leaving the seed.
TO MAKE YOUR OWN LIQUID SEED TAPE
You can make your own liquid seed tape with water and cornstarch:
To one cup of lukewarm water, stir in cornstarch one teaspoon
at a time until the mixture resembles Cream of Rice--before
it cools to rubber. Add your carrot seeds and fill a clean,
plastic shampoo bottle with the mixture. Now you just sque-e-eze
out lines of seeds!
- Cover, sprinkle with water, and enjoy the wait
- After sowing your seeds, cover them with a 1/4-inch layer of loose
soil. I prefer sifted garden soil or a commercial potting soil. Gently
water to keep soil evenly moist. If the soil dries out and forms a crust,
thoroughly remoisten the soil over a couple days, being careful not
to flood them. Keep the soil moist (you may have to water daily) and
be patient--carrots can take up to three weeks to germinate. TIP: If
you can't remember where you planted your carrot seeds, mix a few quick-growing
radish seeds with your carrot seeds. The radishes will germinate first
and mark the rows for you.
- Thinning is beautiful
- Thinning carrots is a tedious chore. Singing passes the time, but
it doesn't ease the back pain. Ask for help. Kids are fascinated by
the little carrots, plus they get to eat them. And it's easier for them
because they're closer to the ground than you or I are! When the tops
are three inches tall, thin to an inch apart. Be ruthless. Crowded carrots
become odd-shaped and dwarfed, which I'll admit, can provide comic relief.
Thin again 10 to 14 days later to four inches apart. As the seedlings
mature, mound soil around the tops to prevent them from turning bitter.
(IMPORTANT TIP: Water after each thinning to help the disturbed soil
settle around the carrot seedlings).
In 1998, John Evans, who lives near Anchorage, Alaska, grew
a world record carrot that weighed in at a whopping 18.98
pounds. John holds seven world records for giant vegetables
including a 35-pound broccoli and a 42.8-pound beet--all
grown organically from ordinary seeds. John likes to encourage
people to garden. "It's really fun, and it's so good for
us to try and be self-sustaining."
John Evans of Anchorage, Alaska,
and his 18.98-pound,
world record carrot
- Cat-free carrots
- Loose, fluffy soil means one thing to a self-respecting kitty. So,
to keep your favorite feline out of the carrot patch, cover your beds
with wire fencing, chicken wire, or fish net. You can also use this
technique to keep cats away from bird feeders--just lay a sheet of fencing
on the ground under the feeder.
- Ash and you shall receive
- Carrots grow best in a soil with a neutral pH of 6.0 to 7.0. And,
like other root crops, they like phosphate and potash. Potash is easily
applied in the form of wood ashes. This will also raise your soil's
- Fertilize with care
- The time to fertilize carrot seedlings is when they reach three inches
high, An organic fertilizer such as fish and kelp emulsions, compost
tea or PlanTea are ideal.
Apply fertilizers half-strength directly to the soil or as a foliar
spray. As they develop, side-dress with well aged manure or compost.
Avoid "hot" nitrogen sources like fresh chicken or horse manure and
fish fertilizer. They cause new roots to "burn off" and fork.
saying "dangling a carrot" as a way to get someone to do
something, originates from the 1890's, when carrots were
dangled in front of donkeys to get them to move.
- Planting carrots with other crops
- As a root crop, carrots make good use of space between rows of celery,
onions, lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, and mustard greens. Try planting
carrots on raised "peaks" with the "valleys" planted with celery, lettuce,
onions, and other surface crops.
- Carrot companions
- Carrots do well alongside most plants, especially chives, tomatoes
and sage. Dill, coriander and other members of the Umbelliferae
family should not be planted near carrots because they tend to cross-pollinate,
an important issue if you're saving your own seed.
- How to harvest and store carrots
- In the refrigerator, carrots will keep for several months. Just wash,
pat them dry and store them in containers or bags with some holes added.
For long term storage, pull the carrots from the soil, but don't wash
them. Twist or cut off the green tops. Layer undamaged roots with sand,
dry soil, or a 50:50 combination of sand and wood shavings (the kind
used in hamster cages). Make sure the carrots aren't touching each other
and keep them in a cool, dark place.
- When was the last time you made a carrot necklace?
- Here's your chance to make a [vegetable] fashion statement! Wash
a few carrots and cut them into 1/4-inch round slices. Thread a heavy
duty needle with dental floss and slip the slices onto the floss by
pushing the needle through the core. Once you've strung enough carrots,
tie the ends together to form a necklace. Lay it on paper in a dark,
well-ventilated place, making sure the slices don't touch each other.
As they dry, they turn into wrinkled beads. Drying takes a couple weeks.
Recipes (a tad unique)
Will Rogers once said, "Some guy invented Vitamin A out of a carrot.
I'll bet he can't invent a good meal out of one." Maybe Will never experienced
carrot cake. The fact that carrots can be incorporated into a bazillion
recipes, makes them a global favorite. I enjoy developing what I call
"sneaky nutrition" recipes, mostly to get more healthy food in the average
diet. Carrot cake does this. So do the next couple recipes...
These pancakes are smaller versions of a carrot cake dessert, only
you get to eat them for breakfast! To two cups of your favorite pancake
batter, fold in the following ingredients:
3/4 cup grated carrots
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom (good, but optional)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon.
1/2 tsp. ground ginger or 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
Cook batter on a hot skillet and serve with yogurt, maple syrup
or your favorite fresh fruit, jam or jelly.
Best Pickled Carrots
These pickles provide a unique way to serve carrots, especially if
you have a bountiful harvest. Try them as an appetizer, salad garnish, with
rice or as a side dish with soups, stews or hearty sandwiches.
2 lbs. carrots, peeled, thinly
3/4 cup vinegar
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. mixed whole pickling spices
Bring vinegar, water, sugar and spices to a boil and simmer for
3 minutes. In a separate pan, cook carrots in boiling salted water for 10
minutes. Drain the carrots and pack them in hot, sterilized pint jars, leaving
1/2-inch of headroom. Cover with the hot pickling liquid, seal and process
for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath. If you don't want to process them,
pour in the hot pickling liquid and let the jars cool to room temperature.
Keep them in the refrigerator. Makes 4 pints.
Bugs Bunny and I wish you the best of carrots. (And if you have any special
carrot recipes, let me know so
I can pass them on to Bugs).