Last night’s plate of Spring vegetables was brought to our table by our garden: asparagus, broccoli, peas, and baby carrots. So delicious.
Carrots are a pain to grow, tbh. They take forever, are finicky about the soil (not too heavy, not too rich, not too much competition, not too close together). They are the Goldilocks of vegetables. I always think it’s weird they cost $1 a bag at the supermarket, considering how long it takes me to grow a tiny bunch. They should cost $40 a bag.
But – and here’s the big but – freshly pulled carrots taste amazing.
When I am choosing garden space to give up to different plants, I often choose in favour of planting what I can’t buy at the supermarket. Think interesting heirloom tomatoes, freckled lettuces, stripy eggplants, interesting chillies, apples that you cannot ever buy because they don’t travel or store well.
The other consideration is flavour. Obviously, homegrown tomatoes are unbeatable in the flavour stakes. So are homegrown capsicums and cauliflowers – just awesome. And apricots – you cannot buy a good apricot. So I like to devote garden space to good flavour.
Carrots are just one of those vegetables that taste amazing when you pull them out of the ground, and lose flavour over time. This is because they are full of natural sugars. When they come out of the ground, they are at their peak sugar levels. Once out of the ground, those sugars turn to starch. This is why the carrots you buy at the supermarket don’t have that same sweet flavour. Instead they are starchy and slightly bitter. It’s no-one’s fault – it’s just a natural process of picking carrots and storing them for a while.
Growing carrots is not difficult exactly, but it does require patience and some knowhow. You need: sand, carrot seed, space, soil that is not too rich (not recently fertilised), and that has been carefully tilled to remove rocks or other debris.
Mix the tiny carrot seed in a container with an equal amount of sand. As the carrot seed is very fine and light, this helps with even distribution of the seed when planting.
Create shallow furrows where you want the carrots to grow. Remember, seeds should be planted at a depth twice the size of the seed, so the furrows should be shallow. Carefully pour the sandy seed mix along the furrows, trying your best to spread it evenly so the carrots will be distributed evenly. The more even, the less thinning you will have to do later.
Lightly cover the sand with soil. Water in.
As the carrots come up, start to gently thin them out so they are not too close together. Visit the carrots regularly and if any seem to close together, thin out. Remember if they are too close together, you will have carrots that are too skinny. They need room to grow. Start feeding them with half strength liquid seaweed and liquid fertiliser every couple of weeks, but never give them full strength, as they do not like a lot of fertiliser – too much and they can twist or fork.
Every month or so, give them a little thin. You can eat the thinnings if you like, but it’s a lot of washing for not a lot of reward so I generally give mine to the chooks.
Once they reach a good size you can start eating them. I like them raw, or lightly steamed with a tiny bit of butter or olive oil. Just scrub, don’t peel. The peel on homegrown carrots is so thin that it’s a waste of good fresh carrots to peel them.