Carrots: How to Grow, Harvest, Store - Recipes - Humor - Nutrition
 

What's Up Doc? Carrots!
Yo, Bugs Bunny, did you know carrots are purple, too?

By Marion Owen, Fearless Weeder for PlanTea, Inc. and
Co-author of Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul


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From 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 lettuce.

Bugs Bunny and carrots

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 vegetable champion.

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.

Colorful carrots

Carrots 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.

Early carrots

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.

How 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 maturity.

Holtville, 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.

HOW 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.

Dancing carrots

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).

WORLD RECORD CARROT
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."


World record carrot
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 pH.

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.

The 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.

Beautiful carrots

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.

Carrot 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...

Carrot Spice Pancakes

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.

The 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 sliced
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).


Thanks for visiting and please stop by again. I'll put the coffee on!


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