Are you growing carrots in your garden?
Carrots are the perfect snack – crunchy, nutritious, low in calories and sweet tasting. They are easy to grow, a versatile ingredient in many cuisines, and are one of the most widely grown and eaten vegetables around the world.
These orange roots are an excellent source of beta-carotene (which we metabolize as Vitamin A) and fiber, as well as several vitamins and minerals. As a bonus, an average sized carrot (100 grams) has just 44 calories. With high potassium content, carrots can help lower blood pressure. The high Vitamin C content makes them an excellent immune system booster, and the fiber content boosts digestive health.
Many other health benefits are attributed to carrots.
Carrots need a well-worked and loose soil, free from stones and other debris. They benefit from soil that has been improved with well-rotted compost. Too much nitrogen fertilizer, however, will encourage them to grow bushy tops and spindly roots.
Sow carrot seeds directly into the soil where they are to grow. They can be broadcast sown in an area or planted in shallow rows. Carrots can be grown fairly densely, so are a good crop if you have limited growing space. If you’re space-challenged, a deep container with loose soil is an ideal growing spot. They do best in a full sun location, but will thrive also in partial sun.
Sow the seeds shallowly and keep the soil moist until they have germinated. It’s a good idea to water the area deeply before sowing, since germination may take up to three weeks. In warm weather, covering the seeded area with a row cover will help maintain soil moisture. It also will keep away the dreaded carrot rust fly.
When growing carrots, begin by sowing short rows, and every three weeks sow another row, so that carrots will be harvestable at different times. If container growing, broadcast the seeds rather than sowing in rows.
Carrots can be harvested as soon as they are large enough to eat – generally around nine weeks after sowing. They will need to be spaced out for optimum growth, so thin out the seedlings as they grow and continue until each plant has enough space to grow well. It’s a good idea to water them before you begin thinning to avoid disturbing the remaining plants. The young ones you pull will be delicious raw, or use them to make pickled carrots.
These yummy roots are good eating at any size, but have the best flavour when they are a bright orange colour. When they’re ready to harvest, pull the carrots by the tops and trim off the tops to about one inch. Remove as much dirt as possible, but do not wash them if you are storing them. Store carrots in sand, sawdust or in a bin in the refrigerator. They will keep well for several months if stored properly. In warmer climates, you can leave carrots in the ground and heap soil or dry leaves over them, and pull, as you need them.
Not all carrots look alike or taste the same. Try growing carrots of different varieties to find your favourites. There are four main carrot groups – Chantenay, Imperator, Danvers and Nantes, distinguished mainly by shape and size of the roots.
Imperators are the most common, with a long tapered shape. These are the most common market variety as they are easily harvested by machine. Chantenay carrots are shorter and wider, with broad tops tapering to a blunt tip. They are the best juicing carrots and are good keepers.
Danvers, a heirloom variety, are more conical with wide tops tapering to a pointed tip. They will be the best choice for heavier soils.
Nantes have a cylindrical shape and by far are the sweetest. They are a good keeper and great for juicing. If you’re a container grower, the small spherical Paris Market variety is a good choice.
Not all carrots are orange. Purple (Purple Haze and Dragons are two purple varieties), red (Nutri Red variety), yellow (Yellowstone) and even white (White Satin) carrots are available from many seed companies.
Cooking With Carrots
Carrots are a delicious raw snack and salad ingredient. They are often lightly steamed and served with a dollop of butter. However, roasting, braising or slow sautéing brings out the flavour and sweetness of carrots. Carrots make classic and delicious soups as well, and everyone has a favourite carrot cake or carrot muffin recipe.
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Here’s my favourite roasted carrot recipe to get you started:
Roasted and Spiced Carrots
Heat the oven to 400˚F.
Combine 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon cumin, ½ teaspoon cinnamon and ½ teaspoon salt.
Cut 3 carrots into one-inch chunks and toss with the olive oil mixture. Roast in a shallow pan for 20 minutes. Toss with minced fresh parsley and juice of one lemon before serving.