“What’s up Doc?” This famous catch phrase from the beloved Warner Bros. character, Bugs Bunny, brings to mind an incorrigible rabbit and the carrots he likes to munch. When thinking of bunnies and carrots, those things often bring to mind gardening. And while bunnies are cute, they are rarely helpful when it comes to creating a successful garden, unless they can help fertilize it. To learn more about how rabbits can fertilize your garden, click here: https://www.permaculturenews.org/2016/12/16/raising-rabbits-source-manure/
However, unlike rabbits, a hearty crop of carrots is an excellent and beneficial addition to your garden at any time.
Carrots are known for being a good way to get your daily dose (and then some) of vitamin A. It should be noted though, that the vitamin A supplied by carrots (and other plant based sources) is in the provitamin A form carotenoids (which give the carrot its orange color). This is different from the preformed vitamin A form retinol (from animal sources).
However, both forms must be metabolized in the body to the active forms of vitamin A, retinal and retinoic acid, in order to be beneficial to the body. Carotenoids, like beta-carotene in carrots, help reduce the risks of certain types of cancer, protect against chronic disease, and are thought to prevent age-related macular degeneration.
Even with all the benefits vitamin A has to offer, it does have the potential, due to the fact it is a fat-soluble vitamin, to accumulate in the body if high doses are consumed. Toxicity and major adverse effects are less common (but may occur in some instances) if the source of vitamin A is plant based foods, as compared with supplements and animal based sources.
Beyond vitamin A, carrots also provide vitamin C, K, thiamin (B-1), niacin (B-3), pyridoxine (B-6), folate (B-9), manganese, and potassium. One medium sized carrot (61 grams) provides 25 calories, 6 grams of carbohydrates (2 grams of which is dietary fiber), 1 gram of protein, and 0 grams of fat. Carrots also contain a compound called falcarinol which may assist in the prevention of colon cancer and leukemia.
Orange Carrots…not always
Carrots, which were thought to have originally hailed from Persia (present-day Iran), are a member of the Apiaceae family (the carrot family). However, the original carrot was a wild species that was more pungent and did not come in orange. In fact, carrots were originally a white color, similar to parsnips.
They were typically used medicinally, leaves and all. A purple variety (colored by anthocyanins, not carotenoids) is thought to have originated in Afghanistan. Through cultivation, the carrot became orange, sweeter, and used more as a food instead of medicinally. Although, all colors of carrots are still grown today.
Grow this way…
To cultivate your own carrots is a worthwhile and enjoyable endeavor. You can grow a variety of species and colors, whatever suits your creative carrot visions. When planting carrot seeds, begin sowing 4 weeks prior to the last predicted spring frost. If planting in the fall, do so after the first hard frost. Carrots tend to taste better after a frost or two.
With either planting style, spring or fall, sow seeds 3-4” apart in straight rows, approximately 12” apart. As the plants start to grow, begin thinning them by snipping the tops of the unwanted ones with garden shears or sharp scissors, not pulling them up, so as not to damage the carrots left to mature.
Carrots should be watered with 1-2” of water each week. Underwatering can create carrots that are slightly bitter or less sweet than expected, and that do not grow as well. Excessive heat, as carrots are a cool weather crop, can also create a less sweet carrot. Carrots should be fertilized (preferably with organic manure) after 6 weeks from planting, but not before, as this may cause the carrots to fork, or grow “legs”.
When the time is right…
Carrots are ready to pick after 2-3 months of growing and are 0.5” in diameter. Carrots left in the ground too long can lose flavor. Once you pick your carrots twist the tops off, wash them up in cold water, dry, and seal in an airtight container. If carrots are put in the refrigerator as is, they will go limp within a few hours.
If you do not get to pick your carrots out of the garden in time, no worries. Since carrots are a biennial plant they will flower out and reseed themselves. However, it can be a good idea to plow your carrot plot under to expose pests, such as flea beetles. If you do not want to till the area you can also plant catnip or basil to repel pests.
Keeping pests out can also help keep the diseases they spread, such as aster yellow disease, out of your garden. Prevention is always better, as many diseases can stow away in your garden, even through the winter. For additional ways to naturally control pests in your garden, click here: https://www.permaculturenews.org/2013/08/12/controlling-garden-pests-with-natural-remedies/
Carrots in the Kitchen:
If you have raised and picked a healthy crop of carrots now comes the decision of what to do with them. Since carrots are naturally sweet, eating them raw is a great way to enjoy them. However, they are also a great addition to your diet when cooked and used in recipes. Carrots can be used to create sides for roasts, add color to a salad, or to add flavor, moisture, and texture to a cake. To create a flavorful side dish, try this recipe:
Chili Spiced Carrots
Recipe from Martha Stewart Living
3 teaspoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 pounds of carrots, sliced diagonally 1/2 inch thick
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
2/3 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
In a large skillet, heat olive oil over low heat.
Add garlic cloves, and cook until tender (about 2 minutes).
Stir in chili powder and ground cumin and cook for 1 minute.
Add carrots, lemon zest, water, and coarse salt.
Bring to a boil.
Reduce to a simmer then cover and cook until carrots are tender (about 15 to 20 minutes).
Uncover, raise heat to high, and cook until any remaining liquid has evaporated (about 2 to 3 minutes). Stir in lemon juice, serve, and enjoy!
Give it a go…
Since carrots can be grown in both fall and spring, they can be enjoyed for a good part of the year. This is great, since they provide many health benefits and offer themselves up for a good many recipes. Planting and harvesting your own carrots is rewarding in many ways. Even if you are a novice gardener, carrots are good crop to begin with. Easy to grow and even easier to enjoy.
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