Gardeners of a particular era will remember pulling a carrot out of the ground, wiping it across their pant leg and enjoying the crunch of the first carrot harvest of the season. Carrots are easy to grow and are the very last crop we pull from our garden in the fall.
There are climates warm enough to store carrots in the ground all winter, but my spouse made me promise never to do that again. He said it wasn't effortless chopping them out of the frozen North Dakota soil.
When people tell me they have no luck with carrots, I can safely assume a few things they are doing incorrectly. First, germination of those tiny seeds takes a little doing, and second, you must thin them early, so they have more room to grow.
Today's carrot is a relative of wild Queen's Anne lace, and that is apparent if you have ever forgotten to dig out a carrot and it goes to seed. Carrots are biennial vegetables and do not produce seeds the first year. However, if you leave that carrot in the ground and it does go to seed, lookout – you will have rogue carrots everywhere.
Before we plant those lovely carrots, we should choose a variety. And there are many varieties of carrots, each with its own set of healthy vitamins. Orange carrots are considered the most healthy because of alpha and beta carotene, which gives them the orange color. Before cultivated garden carrots were available, a wide array of colors grew in the wild – white, red, yellow and purple.
I love purple carrots, and two of my favorites are Purple Haze or Cosmic Purple, as they are purple through and through. Some carrots only have purple skin that turns orange when heated.
Carrots need well-worked light soil to grow correctly. If your carrots have "legs," your soil is too hard, impenetrable by the root, so it begins to grow in any direction it can. There's nothing wrong with these vegetables, but cleaning takes longer.
Carrots also don't mind a little cold weather and can be planted three weeks before the last frost and harvested after a fall freeze, or in our case, that October blizzard.
Now about planting those tiny seeds. First, wet your furrow well. The moisture will keep those seeds on the ground until you get them covered before our famous North Dakota wind carries them to South Dakota. If you are covering your rows with soil, make sure it is not too deep. Rather than bury my carrot seeds, I use some well-dried and chemical-free grass clippings to cover the rows. This keeps them moist until they germinate, and you can remove the grass when seedlings are an inch or taller.
Since I love to experiment, which is how gardening works – whatever works for you is the correct way. Someone posted a video on a Facebook group about gel-planting carrots. It sounded ingenious, and I thought I would try it myself.
Soak your carrot seed in water until you can see at least one seed germinate. This will not happen overnight, so plan. Using one tablespoon of cornstarch to one cup of water, cook until thick – you know, as in gravy. Allow to cool. Then drain the water off the carrot seed, mix with the gel in a heavy zip-lock bag and cut off the tip. Pipe the ingredients into the furrow. The seed flows out fairly evenly, and the gel will keep it moist until it settles in. Okay, so I didn't have much luck with the bag; I found a squeeze bottle for frosting, cut the tip a little bigger and like mustard on a hot dog bun, I spread those carrot seeds.
It was so much fun.
After those babies germinate and stabilize, they need room to grow. Thinning row crops was such a painful lesson to learn when I began gardening independently, but it is the key to good-sized beets, radishes and carrots. Using manicure scissors, I get down to their level and clip out every other plant. This accomplishes thinning without disturbing the soil and uprooting the ones you are expecting to produce. It also makes some people crazy, lying in the garden like that.
If you garden in a box, select a short fat carrot variety like Scarlet Nantes. Most of those boxes, the ones on the legs, are not too deep. And, go ahead and do it; it's not too late to plant carrots. My mother used to plant her entire garden at the end of May, and everything produced just fine.
Live a little and try planting a package of rainbow-colored carrots this year. Eat them along the way, but if you wait until after the first good frost to harvest the bulk of them, the flavor will be sweeter. In the fall, we will talk about recipes and storage for your colored carrot crop.
Sue B. Balcom
Writing, or maybe talking, comes naturally to me and under the guidance of a great newspaper editor I have acquired skills that led me to author four books.