Growing Carrots - for taste and vitamin content
Why not try growing carrots? They are chock full of vitamins and minerals and are quite easy to grow - a good choice of organic vegetable to contribute to your green lifestyle.
Non-organic carrots often contain pesticide residues (in the flesh, where you cannot scrape them away), so of all vegetables, they are perhaps one of the most worthwhile to grow, especially if you have difficulty sourcing organic carrots to buy.
Carrots are not hard to grow. With a little care you can easily grow a satisfyingly tasty and nutritious crop. It's great to be able to eat juicy baby carrots from your own garden. They go well with fresh peas - and other organic vegetables such as new potatoes.
You don’t have to stick to orange carrots. There are plenty of purple, white and pale yellow carrots to try which have slightly different tastes and characteristics. Carrot seed for these variations is now widely available, both on the net and in the larger garden outlets. Kids often find the more unusual colours such as purple intriguing - and may be more willing to try them. It's worth a shot if your child is a fussy eater - but if it does not work, you will just have to make funny coloured carrot cake!
Carrots are full of nutrients, in particular carotene which the body uses to manufacture vitamin A.
Vitamin A plays a part in the body’s immune system, helping to ward off infections and it plays an important role in protecting your eyesight, particularly night vision. Carrots health benefits have been legendary for some time.
During the Second World War the RAF started the rumour that carrots were responsible for their visual abilities in night sorties. People were also encouraged to grow carrots to help their eyesight so that they could cope with the blackout. Dr Carrot was a cartoon character used in posters to popularise the benefits of carrots with children.
Turns out they were not far off the mark. Recent research has shown that carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, may play a valuable role in protecting our eyes against age-related macular degeneration. Although the principal vitamin in carrots is carotene, they also contain vitamins B complex, C, D, E and K and a whole range of minerals.
Carrot seed is widely available. You can buy colourful heirloom varieties from Amazon. Don't forget, buy fresh carrot seed each season. Very few carrot seeds are still viable after a year of storage.
Carrots are quite easy to grow but they do run the risk of being invaded by carrot fly.
This pest burrows into carrots to lay its eggs and when the larvae hatch they eat the root. They can have quite a devastating effect upon a crop so you have to take evasive measures. There are plenty of methods to choose from, some more successful than others.
See below on ways o protect your crop from carrot fly.
One trick is to try growing carrots in containers and to keep them somewhere off the ground. Carrot fly apparently don’t like flying far above ground level. If you do plant them in containers, make sure that you choose a fairly short, stumpy variety. You can even buy varieties specially adapted for container growing.
Sow them in a container at least 8 – 10 inches (20cms or more) deep. You can plant them rather closer together than normal but you will have to water and feed them with a liquid feed regularly. You can also use the cell method (below) to start them off and avoid having to thin.
Greenhouse growing is also a possibility for carrots if you have enough space. The carrots can grow large and lush and the problem of carrot fly is reduced considerably.
I generally use the cell method for starting off carrot seed.
Buy a seed tray divided up into little cells and fill it with compost. You put two or three carrot seeds in each cell. This is a bit fiddly! If you end up with too many in one cell, try to move some of them on into the next. Cover them with a little more potting compost and keep them moist.
When they have germinated and are about 1 – 2 inches high transplant them without thinning into their growing site.
Make sure that conditions outside are good. The soil temperature should be at least 7 degrees centigrade. If you plant them out in too cold weather they will not thrive. It is always better to wait for the right conditions. Preferably plant them out when the soil is warm and damp. The same is true if you are sowing the seed directly into the soil.
It is also a good idea to harden them off before planting out. Put them outside during the day for a few hours each day to help them adapt to the cooler conditions outside.
Plant them about 4-6 inches apart and the roots should grow away from each other to occupy the available space. This completely removes the need to thin.
Of course, you can grow carrots by sowing them straight into prepared ground. Choose a time when the soil is damp. Otherwise, water the ground well in advance and as soon as your seeds are in.Be prepared to thin soon after the seedling crop emerges. Take the thinnings away and water the crop well to help the roots to re-establish themselves after the disturbance.
Carrot fly have an acute sense of smell. They smell discarded thinnings, so if you do thin your crop, remove any thinnings right away from the scene. The same goes for weeds; it's easy to accidentally pull up some seedlings or break plants accidentally while weeding.
One handy organic growing hint to help foil the fly is to earth up the growing carrots so that the shoulders of the developing roots are below soil level. This makes it a little harder for the fly to get to the root. Just rake the soil up to the carrots carefully once they are starting to get established.
Using companion planting may also be some help in deterring carrot fly from invading your growing carrots. Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening is a well-regarded work with plenty of helpful tips and ideas for optimising your planting for strong, bountiful crops.
I have started growing carrots underneath horticultural fleece.
This brings them on a little faster and also provides some protection from carrot fly. It does not stop the rain or the light but it does keep the seedlings a little warmer, giving them a faster start.
As the fleece stops the carrot fly getting at them so easily, I find it's worth just leaving it on, at least through to early summer.
As with all crops you need to keep growing carrots reasonably free of competitive weeds.
After you have weeded them give them a soaking as this helps to re-establish any disturbed roots.
If your crop does get carrot fly, you can still eat the roots if they are not too badly damaged. Just cut out affected parts and discard. Don’t put them in the compost to continue their cycle.
Don’t plant carrots in recently manured soil. The roots tend to fork and - if you use the growing cell method – twist around each other. Most annoying when it comes to washing them!
Growing carrots is worthwhile as part of a green lifestyle. They have so many health benefits and you can even use them in beauty and face care preparations!
Try growing carrots for yourself and benefit from all those delicious nutrients. You can always make carrot cake if you have a glut!
(There's an easy recipe here: Carol's easy carrot cake recipe.)