By Lisa Brunette
This is our third year growing carrots, and we're happy to report the vibrant root veg has earned a permanent place in our home garden. Why? So. Many. Reasons.
Easy to Grow
First, carrots are surprisingly easy to grow. You just have to pick the right variety. Here in the Midwest, the carrot's biggest nemesis is clay soil. See those spindly-looking purple roots in the photo above? Yeah, those are a variety called 'Cosmic purple,' and while we did get some amazing-looking purple carrots out of this year's crop, ultimately, they're not the best for our clay soil.
What does work well in clay soil is a "blocky" carrot variety. For us that means 'New Kuroda' carrots, both recommended and sold by Seed St. Louis, which has great success with them in their demonstration gardens. We tried them for the first time last year, were really impressed, and this year they have not disappointed.
One thing you need to do for sure if you have rabbits in your part of the world is protect those carrots from them. We use modular fences we can pick up and move panel-by-panel, and they work great. The carrots need fencing from rabbits throughout the entire growing season. Bugs Bunny's love of carrots isn't just a myth!
You also want to make sure you fork the soil deeply, allowing for the roots to grow. While the blocky varieties will work well in clay, it's a good idea to loosen the soil before planting anyway. We use a broadfork. (Totally admit: the broadfork is a super-fun nerdy gardener's toy!)
You Get Two Growing Seasons
The other great thing about carrots is that, depending on your growing zone, you could get two crops of carrots per year (or even more). They require a long stretch of growing time, so you need to get the first crop started in early spring, as soon as the soil can be worked. We sowed both varieties as seeds directly into the soil in mid-March and harvested them throughout July. We're getting ready to sow a late fall crop here as soon as the weather clears. In some zones, you can even overwinter your carrots, using them as a valuable dormant-season root vegetable.
Wide Culinary Use
Carrots are a staple in US cuisine, and it's easy to see why: They're tasty, nutritious, and highly versatile. From carrot cake to stir-fry, carrots somehow work across the sweet-savory spectrum. I've eaten them steamed and mashed for breakfast, topped with an egg. I've also grated them into sweet loaves and muffins. But my new favorite way to eat carrots is to bring them to the forefront as the star ingredient in carrot salad.
The salad is simple enough not to need a recipe: grated carrots, olive oil and vinegar, honey, chopped mint, almonds, and garlic. But I'll credit my source, which is Kate Downham's incredible book A Year in the Off-Grid Kitchen.
While carrots are great as a simple raw snack, I encourage you to step outside the usual ranch dressing-and-veggie tray when you're thinking about carrots.
One more thing about eating carrots: Did you know the greens are edible, too? We use them in rice, in place of parsley for another green.
Easy to Preserve
You can store carrots in the ground until a hard freeze. I haven't kept carrots long-term without processing them first, but I'm told you can store them in buckets of sand in a root cellar.
Another new thing I tried this year is pickled carrots. Now a HUGE FAN.
I actually like pickled carrots more than sauerkraut, which Anthony makes and eats by the jarful. The carrots... how to describe this? It's like the brine ferment makes them even more carrot-y, somehow. They're still crisp, and the carrot flavor comes through even stronger. As a side note, pickled carrots are a lot easier for me to eat than plain raw ones, which sometimes give me mild mast-cell reactions.
I'll admit this is the first time I've ever brine-fermented anything, so I was sure it would come out wonky, as first-time things usually do. But the carrots brined beautifully. I wish I had more than the two jars I made! Again, hat-tip to Downham and her perfect book, A Year in the Off-Grid Kitchen. I used her brine instructions, following them to a T, even the bit where you add in a leaf from a high-tannin plant (I used horseradish).
The pickled carrots are kind of a work of art, don't you think?
If you already garden, I hope you'll think about including carrots in your plans for this year's late fall season or next year's spring. If you're thinking about trying gardening for the first time, carrots are a great first veg to try. I wish you mulch success!
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