I am going to try and ignore the cold winter weather by writing about the different veggies I plan to plant over the next several weeks. I will start today with my family's favorite veggie - the carrot!
Carrots are a favorite in our household. I grow lots of carrots every year. We get carrots from our CSA. And I still buy a 5 lb bag of carrots at least every other week. Andy devours carrot sticks in his lunch, snack on carrot sticks after school and begs for cooked or oven roasted carrots for dinner. Dan juices carrots and loves to munch on them raw. I cook with them and munch on them raw. I plan on planting more carrots this year than last year.
Carrots do well in raised bed gardens as they need loose soil for the roots (the carrots) to grow down deep for good sized carrots. Carrots are direct sown in the garden as soon as the ground can be worked. They can handle light frosts so you really can’t plant them too early. They also will survive into the winter under a thick covering of mulch. The seeds are small and try as you might to space the seeds, you really can’t space them properly so you will need to thin them out as they grow. When they are small, thin them out to about an inch apart. As they grow you will need to thin them more (use the baby carrots to make vegetable broth and in other soups) to 3 to 4 inches apart.
Carrots are a great veggie to grow with children. Kids love to grow foods that they like to eat and most kids love carrots. After you introduce them to gardening with familiar veggies, you can often get them to try other veggies if they had a hand in helping grow them.
I like to make several plantings of carrots two weeks apart so that we have carrots throughout the spring and fall. In the north here (MN) the last planting should be around August 1st. I also like to plant fast growing radishes in the same row – for a couple of reasons, one to mark the rows since carrots are slow to germinate and two just to get double use out of the space since my garden is small.
If there isn’t adequate rainfall you will need to water them. Always soak the ground when you water them – carrots are root crops and if you water too much and too shallow you will not get good root development. You want to encourage the roots to grow downward in search of water to make nice long roots, if the top is always moist there is no need for the roots to grow down and you will not get nice carrots. So water them well and then not again until the soil is dry at least 1 to 2 inches down.
Weeding is important when growing root crops. Weeds will choke out your carrots. Many people mulch around them to keep the weeds down.
You can harvest the carrots when they are whatever size you prefer. It is helpful to loosen the soil around the carrots with a spading fork before pulling the carrots up – otherwise you may just end up pulling the carrot top off and leaving the root you were after in the ground.
The most popular color of carrots is orange, but you can also find red, yellow, white and purple. Actually I think most people would be surprised to learn that these “new colors” of carrots are not new at all. Actually the orange carrot that we are familiar with today is relatively new in the history of the plant. The original wild carrot that became domesticated into today’s modern carrot was purple or black. The different colors of carrots contain varying amounts of carotenoids. In my garden, I like to grow a rainbow when it comes to carrots.
A fact that I just learned this past year is that carrot tops are also edible. I never knew that - I eat both beet greens and beet roots but had no idea that I was throwing something edible in my compost. They can be used in any recipe in place of parsley.
Everyone knows that carrots are a great source of Vitamin A. But did you know that they aren’t really. True Vitamin A only comes from animal sources. The source of Vitamin A in carrots is Beta Carotene which is really a provitamin. A provitamin is a substance in food that is converted into a vitamin by our body. Carrots also contain Folic acid, vitamin C, potassium, calcium, iron and magnesium. Carrots also contain the trace mineral selenium, which is hard to find in food and very important – although the amount of selenium in your carrots may vary according to your soil – some parts of the country have more selenium in the soil; therefore carrots grown in those regions will be higher in selenium than carrots grown in other regions. Carrots also contain a long list of phytonutrients. Carrots are also a good source of fiber.