Carrots thrive in my garden. I have sandy soil that is dug and amended about 18 inches deep. The sawdust I added years ago is now dark humus. The roots are safely underground, and when hailstones pummel the ferny foliage it bends rather than breaks.
Growing carrots is easy, once they germinate. When planted in cool soil, the seeds can take three weeks before sprouts appear. Yet, if you wait too long, it’s very difficult to keep the seedbed damp as the weather warms. My solution is to plant around May 1 – 15, then use a drip irrigation mister attached to a timer to keep the soil from drying out.
I space my carrots about 16 per square foot, planting two seeds every three inches and covering them with ¼-inch of vermiculite. The hardest part is thinning, but it’s essential if you want big, straight roots.
We love eating carrots. I don’t mess around with trendy baby veggies. By the time you peel a baby carrot, there’s not much left to bite into. If I’m going to grow a carrot, I want a ginormous carrot that tastes wonderful. After years of trials, I’ve settled on two winners.
Danvers Half-long is an heirloom carrot with a six to eight-inch long root tapering to a pointy end. It’s open-pollinated, so I can save seeds from my own plants. (Carrots are biennials, so you have to overwinter them to get them to bloom. More on that in a bit.) In a blind taste test involving my husband and his two co-workers, this humble carrot surpassed Mokum, the carrot most commonly considered to have the best flavor.
The other carrot I always grow is the hybrid Healthmaster. With its huge 1½ pound root, you only need to peel one per meal! Flavor is passable when raw, but cooking brings out the delicious sweetness—and just the right amount of carrot-y flavor. As an added bonus, Healthmaster’s deep orange-red roots have a third more beta-carotene than other varieties. If I could only choose one type of carrot to grow, this would be it.
Since I grow a lot of carrots, it was important to find a way to store them for the winter. By far the best solution is to simply leave them in the ground! When the tops are mostly killed by cold weather (or a cold night is predicted), but before a hard freeze makes mush of the roots, I heap a two foot deep layer of straw over the entire bed. Then I cover the pile with a waterproof plastic sheet. Even with our cold winters, the soil underneath doesn’t freeze. Whenever I need some carrots, I simply push back the straw and dig up some fresh, crisp roots. With this method, I’ve kept carrots in good condition all the way until spring.
When the ground starts to warm, it’s time to finish off any carrots remaining. If you want to save seeds, leave a few roots to resprout and bloom. The flat-topped flowers attract butterflies and beneficial insects such as lacewings. Be sure to bag the seedheads before they shatter, or you will have carrots all over your garden!
The only problem I’ve encountered in storing my carrots in the ground came the year that pocket gophers invaded my garden. When I went out to harvest, all I had were green tops—the roots were chewed off just below the soil line! I guess I have gophers with gourmet taste.
Do you grow carrots? What varieties do you recommend? Those new red or purple roots in the seed catalog have caught my interest—has anyone tried them? (My one attempt at growing purple carrots succumbed to six back-to-back hail storms.)
Top photo: By 4028mdk09 [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons