Monday, May 25, 2009


The topic that received the most questions at my last week's Open Gardens was carrots. There were lots of things to tell about this year's crop, then and now, but I need to tell my historical pattern first.

Perhaps most important, carrots need a "mature" soil that is friable, rich in nutrients, and easy to penetrate. I recommend not trying during your first couple of years of gardening in any one plot.

When I reached carrot-promising stage, Bob McClean at 51 Gordonhurst, who started gardening in 1930, told me that he put plastic bags of leaves over his carrots in the winter so he could harvest them all winter without going to the trouble of storing them first. A yard-high bag of leaves insulates the carrots and keeps them from freezing.

He suggested I sow carrot seeds in April for harvest the following winter. Since then I've always scattered seeds in April. The first year or two I watched the birds nibble at my carrot patch, so since then I have covered the new bed with floating cover. Once I left it on until too late in June and the tops were burned; that winter I didn't get my fair share of carrots.

So since then I've been careful to take the floating cover off not too late in June. Then I thin the carrots to a half inch spacing, weeding and mulching in between the seedlings with fresh grass clippings as I go. This is a time-consuming task.

In July I have traditionally thinned to one inch spacing, again weeding a mulching as I go. This time the thinnings are big enough to eat; they are called "finger carrots." In August I then thin to two-inch spacing, weeding and mulching as I go. By now the thinnings qualify as "carrots."

Then the plot takes care of itself until some time in December when the tops fall in some frost. I take plastic bags of leaves that Fred has gathered from curbs in nearby towns (Montclair insists on paper bags, which are environmentally desirable, but not good for my purposes) and I have stowed nearby, and I put them over the entire carrot bed(s).

Throughout the winter, I remove the snow if needed (shoveling or brushing as appropriate) off one bag, put the bag aside, take out a week's worth of carrots, and put the bag back where it was. This year I was harvesting LOTS of carrots until April. We had an excellent season last year for raising carrots.

This year I had the misfortune of sowing my first crop of carrots (snax) the week before that very hot spell with temperatures in the 90's. This is bad for germinating carrots; they like April weather. I tried to water them, but... Anyway, when one of my first visitors last week asked to see under the floating cover, I removed one corner and was relieved that respectable carrots seedlings were there. What I discovered when I removed the entire cover on Monday was that were were large blank spots. This is very unusual, perhaps unprecedented. I wish I had watered more assiduously, or perhaps not sown the entire packet at once, but life is full of "wish I hads".

After the hot weather I sowed my nantes carrots in a nearby plot, and they have done better. I think it's the weather, not the seeds or my treatment of them. One guest insisted that a carrot plant was poking the floating cover high. I said it was just a weed, but she insisted. I
thought I'd show her she was mistaken, but I showed her she was right. The carrots have grown unprecedentedly fast this year!

So I took the floating covers off in mid-May, not in June as customary. When I get a round 'tuit, I may transplant some of the extra nantes carrots into the snax plot, thereby becoming unable to tell which is which. That's a silly consideration I tell myself, considering how little attention I paid to the difference last year. Both did well. I fear neither will this year, but they may. They are growing rapidly, and the total volume may make up for the non-carrots that didn't germinate. I'll know by March, maybe by February.

Anyway, carrots are mighty welcome as a fresh crop in winter, and pleasant in August. When your soil is ready, I recommend them as worth the effort. Admittedly, they aren't as MUCH better than store-bought as home-grown tomatoes, which often grow in any soil. I can easily taste the difference, however, between homegrown and commercial carrots.


PS: [from a related post]
Someone asked, "What is thinning?" We all know there is jargon in every human endeavor, and I guess I assumed more than I should have. You have all heard of thick woods and thick hair. If you scatter carrot seeds, you may get a think crop of carrots. Then you need to "thin" the crop by pulling out the excess. We speak of "thinning to one inch" when we are pulling out enough carrots so that the remaining ones are all at least one inch from their nearest neighbor. The tradition was to thin to a half inch in June, to one inch in July, and to two inches in August. My tradition was to throw away or compost the thinnings, but this year I've been transplanting them to fill in the empty spots and to expand the carrot plot. The moist weather has been conducive to success in this project.

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