Roots 'n' Shoots: Carrot: How To Grow - Vegetable of the Month

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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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6 comments:

  1. I love carrots but do find them problematic to get established, mainly due to blackbirds digging up the seeds or slugs etc eating the new foliage. I also occasionally have slaters and mice nibbling into the developed roots. Really informative post - thankyou.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, of all the vegetables and fruits giving me grey hairs, carrots are at the top of that list. If I do not cover the seedlings up with soil fast enough whilst planting, even if the seed just hit the ground, the ants start carrying the seeds away! Birds are clever little things, watching you sow seeds and waiting for fruit to ripen - only to swoop down and eat your hard work - that is limited by my regular cat patrol and gnome watch :). Slugs are a different story - maybe try getting a few toads/frogs nearby to control the population... Cats will sort the rodent problem too :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Again another very interesting/informative post. Please explain what you mean by root-setting? Will that mean that I can start seeing the orangish root poking through soil?

    ReplyDelete
  4. I will be doing a beet article next month after I have done another rotation through fruits, herbs and garden critter :) ... root set is basically anytime an 'identifiable' root can be seen, this can be quite small (1cm diameter at about 1-2 months after the carrot shoots have emerged from the ground, these roots are still beneath the soil). The carrot roots emerge from the ground in 3-4 months, so by then you should definitely not fertilise anymore. But if you forget (which I sometimes do...) a split root is safe to eat, it just looks weird.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi The Shroom,

    I have awarded you the Versatile Blog Award. Please visit http://boonton-newjersey.blogspot.com/2012/01/holleygarden-you-have-made-my-day.html to accept it and see the rules. I hope you will do so. Thank You, KL

    ReplyDelete

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