Carrots are everyone’s favourite to harvest…
But without a doubt, they are not everyone’s favourite to grow!
To start with, the seeds are minute, very light and once sown do not handle drying out.
And if they do sprout, then come the weeds! The enthusiast gardener is often pictured tediously weeding clean rows of carrots. Then thinning them. Then weeding them again.
Once the plant has started growing, there is no guarantee one will harvest a long and thick orange (or purple, red, yellow, white…) juicy root. Far from it… more then not, the amateur gardener pulls out twisted monstrosities that seem freshly out of an “Alien” movie. Or a skinny woody thing of a carrot.
There are a few tips that can really make our life easier, if we decide to grow the most enjoyed Daucus carota.
Soil, soil, soil!
With carrots, its all about soil. It is often recommended to allocate carrots their own bed in the garden. A bit like with potatoes or asparagus. One thing is certain, to get nice carrots you will need loose soil, free draining, free of rock and clay, a soil where the root will be able to grow deep and strong, and be pulled out easily.
To avoid forking carrots, and branching roots, the soil should not be too rich in nitrogen. This means no manures. As usual, good old well aged compost is the way to go.
Wood ashes are meant to promote sweetness.
Old school permaculture writers often talked about growing their carrots in straight compost. This has been verified by our experiments, but we welcome any feedback on the topic.
As a rule of thumb, sandy soil, mixed with aged compost is the way to get started.
A good soil preparation is essential before sowing.
Once your soil is well worked, that all the chunks are broken up, you are ready to sow your carrot seeds. That is a crucial, yet fun part of the process. Kids love it.
Don’t be shy, there cannot really be too many carrots to start with.
Rake it in
That’s as easy as it sounds.
Cover it up
That, my friends, is the often forgotten secret. The carrot seeds are temperamental. As much as the grown up plant is tough and can resist it all, the seeds are probably the most fragile around. One day of drying out, and they are gone!
The secret here is to cover them while they sprout. Regular watering is still needed, but the protective layer will prevent the soil from drying up too much.
Use a porous material, that will breathe and let the water through, while keeping the hot sun out. In this case we used geotextile, but you could use a Hessian bag, a cotton sheet or anything else you fancy.
Every few days you can lift the fabric and have a look. When most of the area is populated by little sprouts, you can safely take it out. The little plants are quite fragile though, still no letting go of the water!
Thin, weed and eat!
That’s the best part of it all. So you have sown a whole lot of seeds in that bed, now most of them are coming up. And with such a pampering environment, all the weed seeds previously in the soil have sprouted as well!
After waiting a week or two, you now have mini carrots and mini weeds all over your bed.
If you know your edible weeds, you can see what’s coming. Yes! A free lunch!
Armed with patience and hunger, you will then spend a few minutes weeding and thinning you carrot bed. And at the same time prepare dinner. The small carrots and their green leafs are VERY edible, from the start. And quite a conversation booster over dinner. Most people don’t know carrot leaves are tasty, specially the young ones.
The idea while thinning, is to pull out the young carrots too close to each other. Now, we are not talking about leaving just a few to get big, we are talking about removing the young seedling that touch each other and will impede each other’s growth.
The beauty of carrots, is that each time you thin them out, you pick them. And each time you pick them, yes, you thin them out!
Keep your seeds!
When you are down to the last bunch of carrots, when they are all big and at a perfect distance from each other, it is time to choose the next generation. In the old days, on the old continent, people use to pull their carrots out, taste them, and keep the crown of the best ones for the next year, to be replanted for seeds. Luckily, in Australia, there is no need for this. If you are a purist, you can still pull them out for a taste, of even carve bits out while in the ground. Carrots are tough.
The point is, choose a few carrots and let them flower, and go to seed!
Carrots produce a LOT of seeds. If one plant is left to go to seed, you can harvest a year’s worth of seeds. When considering that a nursery bought seed packet contains barely enough seeds to grow 5kg of carrots, and that it sells for the same price, it is easy to see the pertinence of seed saving. Plus, by keeping seeds of heirloom varieties we cal all help preserve genetic diversity and resilience of our favourite foods.
The benefits of letting veggies complete their natural cycle is huge. Many creatures will be grateful you did so.
Carrots and parsley are closely related.
When you are done harvesting your last flush, the largest and oldest specimen, you are ready to start all from the beginning. Maybe adding a bit of compost to your soil, and a being careful with the few plants you are letting go to seeds.
In inner Melbourne, you can pretty much sow carrots all year round. Its doesn’t get much better then this!
A note on food forests
Another worthy of mention technique for carrots, for those of us lucky enough to have a bit of a food forest style garden, is to simply walk around casting handfuls of carrot seeds. The ratio of seed to carrots will be a lot smaller, but so will the effort to grow them!
Some would argue that growing carrots is a bit of a waste of time. After all, carrots, even grown organically, are pretty cheap.
We would agree that if a “cash crop” was to be chosen, carrots wouldn’t be on top of the list. But since we are happy dedicating a small area of our garden to that noble plant, we are to be rewarded by a generous and continuous harvest of the delicious root!