Roots 'n' Shoots: January 2012

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Carrot: How To Grow - Vegetable of the Month

Carrot stats/requirements at a glance


Ease of Raising:
4/5 – Easy, monthly check up
Water:
3/5 – Moderate (high heat, every second day)
Sun:
5/5 – Full sun, no shade
Training:
1/5 – None
Fertilise/Feeding:
3/5 – Moderate (growing, monthly) to Minimal (during root set, none)
Time to Harvest:
4/5 – A long time (3-4 months)
Frost Hardiness:
3/4 – Mildly Hardy (can’t take severe frost)


Uses
Culinary
Most Problematic Nemesis:
Powdery mildew or nutrient deficiencies
Container Plant:
Only ‘short-rooted’ varieties


Carrot
Daucus carota
Quick Intro

No dish is complete without carrots. There are many cultivated, wild and sub-species with a variety of shapes (globe and straight), sizes (small to large) and colours (white, yellow, orange, red and purple). Carrots are easy-going in terms of growing, but root set can take a long time in sub-optimal conditions.


History

The ideal deep orange, sweet and crisp carrot that we serve up on the table today was, as with all vegetables, domesticated from a non-so ideal wild carrot. Wild carrots are pale, tough and have small tap-roots. Its speculated origin is in Afghanistan from varieties that are purple. After its spread to Europe, yellow carrots were selectively bred with orange varieties from The Netherlands to give rise to the modern orange carrot.


Science Stuff

Carrots (Daucus carota) belong to the Apiaceae family, which is commonly known as the carrot and parsley family. Apiaceae includes other root, herb and spices, such as, Celeriac, Chervil, Angelica, Anise, Dill, Fennel, Parsnip, Celery, Lovage, Cicely, Coriander, Cumin, Celery and Caraway.

The different colours of carrots are derived from different pigments or lack thereof.

Anthocyanin, is responsible for purple and red colouring of fruits, flowers and roots. The red and purple pigmentation of fruits and flowers attract insects for pollination or attract animals to eat and disperse seeds. Anthocyanin is a powerful anti-oxidant and is found in any fruit or vegetable with purple or dark red colouring. Yellow or white carrots lack this pigment, due to the loss or mutation of the gene responsible, which affects pigment production. This pale characteristic was preferred as these carrots did not colour soups or sauces purple J.

β-carotene or Carotene gives carrots their bright orange colour, which is metabolised in the presence of bile salts to Vitamin A. Eating way too many carrots can make your skin orange!

Carrots of the Rainbow!
Photo: ARS, Stephen Ausmus

Growing Carrots

Carrot seeds are planted directly into the garden once the soil is warm enough as they do not transplant well. Carrots can be raised all year round in SA and Zone 7 gardens because the ground warmth does not fall below that which is required for carrots and we do not get snow in winter. Carrots grown in winter will take longer to set as the amount of sunlight and day length is reduced in winter when compared to summer.

Long rooted carrots should be planted in the garden with soil dug over at least 30cm deep and are designated as your main crop. Short rooted, globe varieties or baby varieties can be grown in pots that are at least 20cm deep and will supply carrots earlier than the main crop.

Carrots in my garden takes 3 months to set a decent sized root, now I do not think that this would be the same for other garden (even Zone 7 gardens) as I have Savannah soil – which is the most challenging soil to grow crops in and is very poor in nutrients, especially potassium. Potassium is essential for carrot root set. My first carrots looked like bottle-brushes with a lot of fine roots that resembled hairs and nearly no tap-root, due to the lack of potassium in the soil. So I always add extra potassium (potash) to my garden in a for-nightly (summer) to monthly (winter) basis. The carrots can be fertilised during their growing stage every second week, but once the roots have set, do not fertilise, as this will create split roots. Potash can be added regardless of root set – which makes for really useful stuff!


Carrots
Daucus carota
Succession Planting

Now, I have not come across any resource that explains how to stagger your root crops. So I use the square-foot gardening principles and adjusted it a bit to limit mono-cropping and replacing quantity with quality.

So, plant 9 carrots in a square-foot (about 30cm x 30cm square). Traditionally this would be 16 carrots for square-foot gardening purposes, but this creates a haven for pests, due to the large amount foliage that shelters aphids and whiteflies. So if your carrots have problems with aphids and whitefly, try not to crowd them too much and/or try my enviro-friendly sprays, see Pest Control. 16 carrots crowd one-another in terms of physical soil space as well and become a heavy burden on soil nutrients.

Before you sow the seeds, first lay out your squares with twine or rocks. Dig into the squares 30-40cm and add kitchen waste, potassium and fertiliser, the benefits of this is explained under my Composting section. Now de-clump and de-rock the soil before returning it to the square. Plant 9 carrots, evenly spaced and they’ll pop-up in about 2-3 weeks. Plant a square of carrots every two weeks to have a succession of carrots throughout the year and alternate every carrot square with a beetroot square (or similar globe root) as this minimises mono-cropping as mono-cropping also encourages pest accumulation.

Carrots - 9 in a square

Beets - 5 in a square





Alternate carrots and beets

If your soil is too cold in winter or if you get snow, I would suggest planting in squares (it maximises space usage), but do not plant them in succession, plant as many squares as you can manage. Store the excess for the winter months.


Other Carrot Tips

When the carrots start to set their roots – cover the exposed root with soil, this prevents ‘green shoulders’ on the root due to greening on the top of the root when it is subjected to sunlight.

Covered carrot
Dead and damaged leaves can be removed along with ones infected with Powdery mildew. The powdery mildew spray I use for Cucurbits has an inhibitory effect on the carrot mildew, so it’s worth a try, see Pest Control. Powdery mildew only affects the carrot greens and carrot growth - therefore carrot roots are safe to eat with powdery mildew greens.

Powdery Mildew on Carrot leaves
If seedlings are grown next to larger crops – just look out for the larger crop leaves not smacking the seedlings on the head! - especially when the wind blows or during rain. Remove any leaves that are in danger of hitting seedlings or is already lying atop seedlings, since this smothers, damages and sometimes kills seedlings.


Harvesting & Storing

Carrots are pulled from the ground by grabbing the leaves close to the root and turning the root while you pull it out. If the root is being suborn, do not pull too hard or the root will break in half! Rather dig out or loosen some of the soil around the root and then remove.

Long term storage: If you can, carrots can be stored in trays/boxes containing sand for winter usage. After washing the carrots, the leaves are trimmed to 1cm from the root, then place them next to one another (not touching) in a tray filled with dampened sterile/clean river sand. Layer the sand and carrots singly. The tray is sealed and stored in a cool, frost-free (and I suppose dark) place. – I have not tried this yet, but will do so with some of my excess carrots to test whether it works or not.

More practically, you can blanch the carrots. After blanching dry the carrots - make sure they are dry (leave for a few hours to dry) and then store in the refrigerator – or else you’ll have mushy carrots when you cook them from not-properly-dried-before-frozen carrots J.

Sort term storage: Fresh carrots can be kept at room temperature for 2 days, after 2 days at room temperature or just a day in the fridge, they start to shrivel. Vacuum packing carrots with a few drops of water, allows them to keep for up to a week in the fridge. The best place for short term storage of carrots, is to just leave it in the ground until needed.


Seed Collection & Storage

Carrots flower in their second ‘summer’ in the ground. Now this can be in the same year (As our year in SA is flanked by summer and spring – Summer in Jan-Mar and Spring in Sep-Dec). The carrots stored in sand can be replanted in spring and will flower J. Flowers can be pollinated by butterflies, beetles, bees and flies.

Carrot Flowers

Carrot varieties will cross pollinate (such as yellow x purple, round x globe ect). So cover the flowers with netting/fleece and hand pollinate those you desire to be 'pure bred'. The seeds are ready for collection after they have dried and the flower stem has become brittle.

The seeds are then placed in water at 50oC (112oF) for 15-20 minutes to kill any seed-borne disease, dried and stored in a labelled glass jar.


My carrots:

Starke Ayres Kudora: Orange, long rooted straight carrots. They produce large roots and are heat resistant with a good germination/emergence percentage.

Rainbow Carrot Blend: From ebay, white, yellow and purple carrots. They all taste slightly different, one is more bland, other more ‘carroty’ … J

Franchi Carrots (#4): These are short rooted, globes carrots. I thought that they would set quicker than the others, but they set in the same amount of time.

I mainly plant the Starke Ayres carrots, because the rainbow and globe carrots’ germination/emergence percentage is less than the Kudora. So I only have one designated square for the rainbows and globes, all the rest are succession planted with Kudoras.




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Sunday, 22 January 2012

SISTAS IN DA COOP!

So we have finally gotten chickens! I thought over it for some time, then researched chicken keeping to death and we decided that it was economical J and a good idea to get chix for fresh eggs – the eggs we buy (free range, organic and all that) you can’t beat stiff! No matter which trick or additive you try, it ain’t happening!

This is not one of my ‘full’ profiles, since we only have had the chix for two weeks and I am waiting for the mother-of-all chicken keeping books to arrive J.

So during my quest for chickens, many local sites suggested that if you’d like to keep chickens, try and do so with indigenous ones. I did not even know you get chickens indigenous to Southern Africa! J It is hard to find information on these and most of the information is usually cut and pasted (sometimes directly) from two main resources namely ‘South African Country Report On Farm Animal Genetic Resources, Department of Agriculture (South Africa)’ and the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) of SA. So I will provide a combined summary (with no plagiarising J) from both sources. Anyways, the main indigenous and possibly endemic (endemic = only found in certain local areas, like “Fynbos” biome only found in SA) breeds are the Ovambo, Potchefstroom Koekoek, Naked Neck (probably not endemic), Matabele, Venda and Boschveld.

Ovambo

The Ovambo is originally from Namibia and Ovamboland (Northern Namibia). Ovamboes are generally small sized, black chickens with additional streaks of white and/or orange. The colours and small size of the chicken helps it to avoid predators, especially from large birds of prey. They are quite robust chickens and are known for agile hunting of small rats and mice. Their roosting behaviour is similar to Guinea Fowl, where they roost in trees at night to avoid predators (small wild cats, foxes…). They are known for their hardiness and ability to withstand harsh conditions (heat, drought, food shortage – typical Southern African problems).

Ovambo Chickens
Photos: ARC: Indigenous poultry breeds of SA


Averages
Weight at 16 weeks (kg)
1.32
1.74
Weight at 20 weeks (kg)
1.54
2.32
Sexual Maturity (days)
143
143
Egg weight (g)
52.5
-
Eggs produces (per year)
129 ± 5
-



Potchefstroom Koekoek

The Potchefstroom Koekoek (Pot-chef-stroom Koe-koek, ‘oe’ pronounced ‘ooh’ J, its Afrikaans, my mother tongue J). It was bred in 1960 by Prof. Chris Marais at the Potchefstroom Agricultural College, by crossing the Black Australorp, White Leghorn and Barred Rock chicken breeds. The name ‘Koekoek’ refers to the spotted ‘guinea fowl like’ patterning of the chicken’s feathers. Males and females are sexually dimorphic (physical feature separating males and females of the same species) at a young age. Day-old female chicks are completely black and males are black with a white spot on the head. This clearly makes distinguishing the two for easy separating genders and breeding. The Potchefstroom Koekoek was bred to create a more robust chicken to cope with the South African climate and therefore they are good chickies for both meat (apparently an attractive yellow colour) and egg laying (eggs are large and brown). They are good commercially and for household/backyard chickens.

Potchefstroom Koekoek (Potch Koekoek)
Photos: ARC: Indigenous poultry breeds of SA


Averages
Weight at 16 weeks (kg)
1.4
1.84
Weight at 20 weeks (kg)
1.7
2.4
Sexual Maturity (days)
130
130
Egg weight (g)
55.7
-
Eggs produces (per year)
198 ± 8
-



Naked Neck

So, these originated in Malaysia and was likely distributed to the rest of the world through the Dutch East India Company. They arrived in SA in the 17th century and are popular amongst rural SA farmers, but not commercially. Their patterns vary, but there are two distinguishable ‘nakedness’ for these birds. Homozygotes (carrying both genes for the naked neckness J) or purebred (‘pure’ for a characteristic), have a neck void of feathers. The Heterozygote (carrying one gene for naked neckness) or not purebred, have a few fly feathers on the front of its neck. They do well as meat and egg laying chickens.

Having a naked neck is advantageous to French commercial farmers, because (1) A lot of nutrition/protein is required to produce feathers, thus less feathers = chickens eat less/nutrition redistributed to other areas, (2) they are easier and quicker to pluck for eating and (3) they are apparently more heat tolerant (probably due to increased heat being lost through the naked skin).

Naked Neck
Photos: ARC: Indigenous poultry breeds of SA


Averages
Weight at 16 weeks (kg)
1.1
1.5
Weight at 20 weeks (kg)
1.4
1.95
Sexual Maturity (days)
155
155
Egg weight (g)
55.1
-
Eggs produces (per year)
? ± ?
-



Matabele

They are ‘big and burley’… and that is all I have. Seriously, I can not find more on this chicken, not even a picture. The Matabele (or Ndebele) people are from once Eastern Transvaal or now Mpumalanga province – so that would suggest that the chicken *may* have originated in eastern South Africa and is *probably* a hardy breed such as the Ovambo. Seen as it is ‘big and burley’ it would probably make a good meat chicken.


Venda

Venda chickens are named after the region they originated, the Limpopo province (the northern-most province in SA). These multi-coloured white, black and red chickens were first described by a veterinarian, Dr Naas Coetzee in 1979. Later similar chickens were seen in the Southern Cape and Free State. An interesting characteristic that pops up every now and then, are rose-coloured combs and/or five-toed chickens. The chickens are large and mothers are good brooders. They lay tinted eggs of a decent size and are therefore mainly used for egg production. Apparently more information is being collected about these chickens.

Venda Chickens
Photos: ARC: Indigenous poultry breed of SA

Averages
Weight at 16 weeks (kg)
1.24
1.57
Weight at 20 weeks (kg)
1.4
2.01
Sexual Maturity (days)
143
143
Egg weight (g)
52.7
-
Eggs produces (per year)
? ± ?
-



Boschveld

This is another breed developed in SA. The Boschveld contains contributions from the following indigenous breeds in its genetic pool, which include the Matabele, Ovambo and Venda. Each breed was chosen specifically by Mr. Mike Bosch (a local farmer) to ensure certain characteristics in the Boschveld. He wanted a chicken that is hardy and can withstand the harsh South African climate (Ovambo) and is (I suppose) relatively large (Matabele). The Venda chicken made their contribution by producing hardy hens that are great mothers and egg producers. – Oh! They seem to be ‘dipped’ less for external parasites as well, so they are more pest resistant too! They are good meat and (obviously) egg laying chickens.

Boschveld Chicken
Photos: http://www.boschveld.co.za/Chicken.htm

Averages
Weight at 16 weeks (kg)
?
?
Weight at 20 weeks (kg)
?
?
Sexual Maturity (days)
?
?
Egg weight (g)
?
-
Eggs produces (per year)
240 ± ?
-

What I can say is that hens start to produce eggs as 20 weeks of age.



OK, so that covers indigenous breed – phew! Now to our chix. We read that it is a good idea for backyard chicken keepers to get a good selection of different breeds. So, we have 6 chickens, 2 of each – Boschveld, Koekoek and Australorp.

Now, the Australorp:

Australorps are an Australian breed known for their hardy yet docile behaviour and are good meat/egg laying chickens. So there is a lot of info on these – yay! They have soft feathers, white toenails, black (or rather grayish – we have white Australorps) legs and beak. Chickens come in standard and bantam (small/miniaturised) sizes with a multitude of colours, most recognisable is Blue, Black and White. These have a good egg laying capacity with one hen laying 364 eggs in 365 days!!! They are broody and very instinctual mothers J. They are good chickens for meat and egg laying, and just all-round hardiness, especially to cold.

White Australorps Chicken

Averages
Weight at 16 weeks (kg)
2.5?
2.9?
Weight at 20 weeks (kg)
3.1
3.5
Sexual Maturity (days)
154
154
Egg weight (g)
60
-
Eggs produces (per year)
275 ± 25
-

Point of lay starts at 20-22 weeks.

We aimed to get chickens that were 4-6 weeks of age, as we have cats and do not want to raise one day old chickies in incubators with cats around J. We got three 6-week chickies and three 10 week chickies. The Australorps were R50 and the rest R30 per chicken, fully vaccinated against Newcastle disease.

We managed to build the coop for under R500, re-using a lot of wood and spare parts in the garage. Only new things was the wire and roofing plates. Not the prettiest coop, but definately functional J





Makes for a sturdy cat proof coop!

Conveniently we have a “FarmCity” just 2km from us, so we got all the chicky supplies there: chicken feeder, waterer, mite/tick dust, grow pellets…
Chicken Water Fountain


Chicken Feeder











Here are the sistas in da coop

I have not given them names yet, still deciding...

They believe the camera to be a monster –
hence the nervous and quizzical expressions J


Since we got them at 6 and 10 weeks, we will have to ‘socialise’ them. So I established a feeding routine and sit every now and then in the coop so that they can get comfortable with humans – Cause when I need to dust them for mites or other ‘services’ they should be calm and not flutter about. J

They were mostly fed pellets at the farm we purchased them from, so I even had to get them used to other types of foods (like some squash seeds, banana, carrot leaves). I introduced the new food one item at a time (not mixing of carrots with apples or such J) and mix some pellets in there as well – they quite enjoy their snacks now J.


I will keep you updated on the chix and probably do a full profile in the future!
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Please share with fellow gardening enthusiasts via the various sharing buttons at the end of posts/pages! Else you can vote for posts through the Google reactions bar at the end of articles. To stay up to date I have provided several reader and social networking platforms with which to subscribe: TwitterPinterestRSS Feed Reader or Email/Follow directly using the Blog Followers widget on the left hand side toolbar. Thank you for reading and please feel free to ask if questions arise - I appreciate comments and ideas too! 😆
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