Carrots (Daucus carota)
The 2018 carrot crop was my best ever. But there’s still lots of room for improvement. Following Louise Riotte’s advice in Carrots Love Tomatoes, I planted carrots around the edges of raised beds where tomatoes would be planted in the centers in due time. The carrots did indeed love the tomato beds, but the tomatoes did not return the compliment. Tomato plants without the border of carrots did consistently better than the tomato plants with the carrot border. Perhaps this year I’ll plant fewer carrots with the tomatoes–perhaps in the corners of the tomato beds instead of all around. Hmm.
I like the multicolored carrots that are available these days. When I don’t have garden carrots, which is much of the year, I depend on Trader Joe’s organic Carrots of Many Colors. Orange, red, and purple carrots may vary in sweetness from batch to batch, but they almost always please. Yellow carrots are usually OK, but often not as sweet, whether from the garden or the store. White carrots are almost always disappointing, and I have determined not to grow them this year. When I buy from Trader Joe’s, I look for the package with the fewest white and yellow carrots. Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch, in The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook, are not particularly pleased with the white and yellow carrots either, faulting them as I do for lack of sweetness. They note approvingly that orange carrots contain the antioxidant carotene, and red carrots have more lycopene, another antioxidant. But they think the purple carrots with orange centers are simply gaudy. I agree with all that, except that I like the purple carrots, particularly the Purple Haze carrots from Johnny’s, which are dark purple with a bright orange core.
Michael Pollan, in Second Nature, tries to think like a carrot in order to discover what his carrots need in order to achieve their sweetest potential. I wrote about this in the post Carrots. After considering their needs in this way, he lightens their soil with sand, compost, and peat moss, and he thins them ruthlessly, creating more shoulder room, as he says. In due time, he harvests long, broad-shouldered carrots that are sweet with intense carrotness. It’s a great garden story.
Johnny’s catalog agrees that carrots require deep, loose soil. Riotte stipulates that sweet-tasting carrots must have sufficient lime. She also notes that too much nitrogen will cause poor flavor, so beware of commercial fertilizers. Hot weather will also adversely affect the taste of carrots. Coleman notes that carrots take up pesticide residues from the soil, so it is particularly important to grow carrots organically. He recommends enough lime to keep the soil pH around 6.5. Also that carrots benefit from the minerals in greensand.
With all this in mind, I prepared the carrot beds the second week in April, working them deeply with a broadfork, and adding ample amounts of compost with greensand. The resulting soil was loose and crumbly–friable, as they say. I like that word friable. You can see the broadfork in action here.
For orange carrots, I planted 2. Romance, a main crop carrot which Johnny’s catalog says has impressive flavor. Also Napoli, which is good for fall planting as well as spring. For red carrots, I stayed with the Malbec, which I prized last year. For purple carrots, the Purple Haze, also a favorite from last year. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. All varieties are from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
In the above photo can be seen the carrot beds newly planted on April 9, 2019. I plan to tuck some carrot seeds into the corners of the tomato beds as well after the beds have been prepared. Carrot beds must be sprinkled several times a day while germination is taking place. Today is a rainy day, so nature is my sprinkler today. Germination may take a week or 2, depending on the temperature. Two months or thereabouts to maturity. July and August, hopefully. Then try for some fall carrots. More about that later.
As with other vegetable crops this year, I hope to track the carrots from planting to harvest with photos and notes added to this post. So if you think about it, check back from time to time to see how my garden grows.