C is for Carrot

Showing off.

Everyone must grow carrots at least once in his or her lifetime, especially if you have children around. If you don’t have raised beds with fluffy soil, designate a large container for a crop of carrots.

Carrots are a root vegetable, meaning they are a cool-season vegetable. You should start your seeds directly in the ground after the threat of frost has passed (although a light frost shouldn’t hurt carrots). The seeds germinate best in cool, moist soil. The soil needs to be fairly pliable or your carrots will grow to be pretty funny looking.

Seeds germinate quickly, so you should see dainty tufts of fern-like leaves soon after planting. Here’s the hard part: now you have to thin them out so that the plants are about an inch or two apart. I always have a hard time thinning plants–just choose the ones that look the strongest and yank the others. In the Santa Clara Teaching and Demonstration Garden, we would let the kids help thin. That’s a fun job for a kid because he or she can see the miniature immature carrot developing, and start to grasp the process of growing.

Identifying the carrot he planted these by seed.

Identifying the carrot she planted by seed.

When the plants look like the top of a carrot should look, that’s when you can pull them out. The strangest thing about kids these days though, is that if they’ve never seen Bugs Bunny (and most haven’t), they don’t even know that carrots have greens attached to them. Kids today think carrots are little, smooth, oblong, orange crunchy things. No, the “baby” carrots are simply cut from bigger carrots and soaked in chlorine so they don’t turn white.

Sharing the greens with his chickens.

Sharing the greens with her chickens.

Is it really that more convenient to buy already cut carrots rather than just plain, out-of-the-ground carrots? (Yes, sometimes it is, and I have. But my kid knows what a carrot looks like.) I’m not even advocating growing your own, just showing your kid what a real carrot looks like once; Then buy the conveniently cut ones!

Pureed carrots are oftentimes a baby’s first food–if it’s store bought! Ironically, pediatricians advise against giving babies home-grown carrots because they could have higher amounts of nitrates in them than prepared baby food. Prepared baby food supposedly screens for nitrate levels in carrots, but screening isn’t required by law nor is it enforced. Even so, nitrates are naturally occurring so they cannot be removed anyway. Nitrate poisoning, or Blue Baby Syndrome, is a serious condition that is associated with drinking well water, not eating root vegetables. But because root vegetables are in the ground, it’s recommended by pediatricians that people wait six months or so to feed their baby home-grown carrots.

I didn’t buy jarred baby food, as you might have guessed, but I did skeptically wait a few months before giving my son carrots. I just couldn’t swallow (and still can’t) that jarred baby food could in any way be better for my baby. It still makes me a bit angry that doctors would advise eating something processed, with no guarantees, rather than advocate fresh fruits and vegetables. We live in a confusing world bombarded with contradictions and mixed messages. All over carrots!

Cool Season Vegetables and Carrots: September is a good time to plant asparagus, beets, broccoli, chard, lettuce peas, spinach and of course, Carrots! If you have a light fluffy soil you can grow those long beautiful carrots you see in the grocery store. However most of us have a heavy clay soil and it is best to grow the shorter varieties. Adding organic material (but not manure) is always a good idea. The seeds are very tiny and adding sand to them will help you not overseed. Do not plant more than 1/2 inch deep.

Carrots are slow to germinate and could take as long as 3 weeks, so keep the soil moist until they’re up. Some common problems are: twisted roots, when plants are too close together; forked or deformed roots due to clods and rocks in the soil; hairy root, when plants receive too much nitrogen; and splitting because of too much water.

Carrot soup is one of my favorite soups. It’s silky and elegant, and looks great in my favorite bowls. Here’s how I make it: Cut carrots and an onion and saute in olive oil and butter until the onion is translucent and not crunchy. Add enough vegetable broth to just cover the amount of vegetables and bring to a boil. Then simmer until the carrots are soft. Blend, season, stir, eat. The fun part about this soup is that you can use whatever spice you crave. Curry-carrot and ginger-carrot are my two favorites (add fresh ginger with the onions and carrots and add again to the finished product). My friend’s mom uses white wine, nutmeg, and white pepper in her carrot soup.

About master kindergardener

Santa Clara County Master Gardener since 2007, Mom since 2009, Gardener since birth.
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