Plant of the week: Carrots

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Ah, carrots.  They’re one of those vegetables that taste so much better fresh from the ground that one might wonder whether they and the specimens from the grocery store are of the same species.  They’re so much sweeter and more flavourful fresh from the dirt.

Not only are carrots delicious, but they are an excellent source of phytochemicals and vitamin A, as well as a less significant source of vitamin Bs, C, D, E, and K, as well as potassium.  It’s true what they say; they’re good for your vision, but they also have many more health benefits.

Ideal growing conditions

Carrots prefer loose and sandy soil that is free of rocks.  I tried to grow them one year in spot in my small backyard that had been well-travelled; the ground was too hard, so they died as stunted seedlings.  They prefer full sun but can deal with partial shade.  Direct sow them outside once the soil is workable.  You can also plant them in pots, but choose a variety that develops shorter roots.

Carrot seeds are tiny, so they are difficult to space apart when you sow them; don’t worry, it’s always necessary to thin them later.  Sow them in rows about 3-4 inches apart.  At first it will be difficult to distinguish them from weeds, but once the secondary leaves develop, you’ll recognize their curly tops.  Ensure that you keep them weeded, and thin them out as they grow so that there is sufficient room between the remaining plants for them to develop good size roots.  You can enjoy the baby carrots that you remove.

Preserving carrots

You can blanch and freeze carrots, pickle them, or store them boxes filled with sawdust or sand.  You can leave them in the garden after they’ve been hit by frost; frost improves their flavour.

Types

Carrots aren’t just orange–they come in a rainbow of colours including purple, yellow, white, and red.  Most varieties of carrots belong to one of the following categories:

  • Nantes carrots produce sweet, crisp, 6-7” cylindrical carrots with blunt tips. They are great for home gardens, as they can grow in sub-optimal soil.
  • Chantenay carrots are short and stout, with broad crowns.  They’re also a good choice for home gardeners, although they often get woody cores, so you will want to harvest them when they are about 6 inches long.
  • Mini carrots are the best varieties for growing carrots in containers or rocky soil.  They’re harvested when small.
  • Imperator carrots are the classic long, tapered type of carrot that you see at the grocery store. These carrots require a foot of properly prepared soil to grow, so they are probably not an ideal choice for backyard gardeners.

Friends

  • Beans
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Chives
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Most herbs
  • Onions
  • Peas

Foes

  • Dill
  • Tomatoes

Fun facts

  • Carrots are actually biennial; that is, if you leave them in the ground, the tops will flower and produce seeds in their second year.
  • Carotenemia may occur if one eats massive amounts of carrots.  The skin of the afflicted person may turn yellowish orange!
  • Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, reportedly did not like carrots.  😦

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