Plant of the week: Carrots

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.  😦

 

Growing vegetables in hot, dry conditions

Following are some tips on how to encourage a productive garden during a hot, dry summer:

  • Choose varieties that mature quickly and produce smaller fruit.
  • Lay your garden out so that plants that need similar amounts of water are grouped together.  Raised beds retain more water than open beds.
  • Plant in groupings or hexagonal offset patterns rather than rows so that the leaves can provide shade.  Space plants 1.5 to 2 times further apart than usually recommended to provide plants with access to a larger area from which to draw moisture.
  • Sow tall plants, such as corn and tomatoes, on the south side of heat-intolerant plants such as leafy greens, to provide them with shade and lower the temperature.
  • Add large amounts of organic compost to the soil; this helps trap moisture and encourages deep roots.
  • Apply a thick layer of mulch to the soil to prevent moisture loss and keep the soil cooler.  This will also help prevent the growth of weeds, which compete with your plants for water.  You can use natural materials such as grass clippings, straw, dried leaves, pine needles, or shredded bark.
  • Water plants heavily when they are very young, and producing blossoms or fruit.  During other times, they can do with less water. Use drip hoses, which direct water into the soil, rather than spraying the plants from overhead where it is wasted on the leaves.  Water in late evening and early morning.
  • You can place shade cloth over the south sides of eggplant, pepper, and tomato plants.  This will reduce the temperature by 5-15 degrees and may prevent sunscald.  Plants like peppers and eggplants may produce less during a drought, but they will still produce.

Avoid planting these vegetables

Vegetables like peas, brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, etc.), and leafy greens like cold weather, so they won’t do well in the heat of summer.  You can try planting them in the early spring or late fall, when the heat is less extreme.

Do try these drought-tolerant vegetables

  • Amaranth
  • Artichokes – Jerusalem and globe
  • Arugula
  • Asparagus
  • Beans
  • Chard
  • Chickpeas (I made the mistake of overwatering these and they started to germinate in the shell!)
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Cowpeas
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Endive
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Melons
  • Mustard greens
  • Okra
  • Onions
  • Oregano
  • Peppers
  • Rhubarb
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Savory
  • Squash
  • Sweet corn
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Thyme
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon, especially the sugar baby variety

Edible perennials

Most edible garden plants are annuals; that is, they must be planted from seed each year.  Perennials are plants that remain productive year after year.  They may go dormant in the winter, and re-emerge in the spring.

Perennials often need a few seasons to mature before they begin to produce.  Once they are established, they may be prone to spread to the point that they become invasive, so be sure to carefully plan their locations.  It’s a good idea to keep perennials together so that you don’t have to cultivate in and around them each year when you sow your annuals.

Here is a list of edible perennials:

  • Asparagus
  • Bamboo roots
  • Berry bushes, such as raspberries and blueberries
  • Bunching / Welsh onions
  • Chives
  • Collard greens
  • Egyptian onions
  • Fruit trees
  • Globe artichokes
  • Horseradish
  • Jerusalem artichoke / sunchokes (flowers shown above)
  • Kale
  • Lemon balm
  • Lovage
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Radicchio (technically a hardy biennial)
  • Rosemary
  • Rhubarb
  • Sage
  • Sorrel
  • Strawberries
  • Wild leeks / ramps