I was taken on as their apprentice at age three. My least-favorite job was thinning the carrot patch. If you’ve ever planted carrots, you know just how minuscule the seeds are and how hard it is to give them the right amount of space, even with a seeder. My grandfather put me to work as soon as the baby carrots were about the width of my pinky finger. I actually cried while pulling out the tiny orange roots, which were destined to never reach maturity. Too sensitive a kid for my own good, I wish I’d calmed down enough to appreciate what a delicacy I had on my hands. Carrot thinnings are exquisite eaten straight from the garden and can also be converted into a delectably crunchy cousin to the dill pickle – dilled carrots (recipe to follow).
I’ve found carrots an easy crop to grow, as long as I keep up with the weeding. I’ve gotten over my horror of thinning, and have even adopted a new technique for when the carrots are too small to eat. Instead of pulling unwanted carrots out, potentially disturbing the roots of remaining neighbors, I snip the tops off at the soil line, allowing the severed root to rot and provide air channels for the rest of the crop.
Carrots and their cousins, parsnips, taste sweeter after they’ve been touched by a fall frost. I leave a row of them in my zone 6a garden long into October to enjoy the fun of Halloween carrot pulling with my nine-year-old, an admittedly muddy but satisfying affair.
If you want to keep your carrots fresh for months after harvesting them, consider natural cold storage. You don’t need to have an actual root cellar, just a cold room, garage or carport where winter temperatures don’t drop below 0°C (32°F). Somewhere between 4°C – 7°C is ideal, which is the temperature most fridges are kept at.
The key to successful cold storage for root crops such as carrots is adequate air flow and relatively high humidity. You’re essentially trying to trick the carrots into thinking they’re still living in your garden. To do this, you need a clean soil substitute such as sand or sawdust from untreated wood that you can stick the carrots in with their crowns exposed. Break off the tops when you harvest, but leave a couple of centimetres on – definitely don’t cut into the root! Do the same thing for beets and parsnips if you’re storing those. It’s better to keep different vegetable varieties in separate crates. This will prevent the need to rummage around in the cold, wet sand looking for the right vegetable during the wintertime. Leave a couple of centimetres of space between roots. I find that it’s easier to insert them when the storage medium is dry. Add water once the vegetables are situated.
If you’re unsure about the average temperature in your storage space, keep a thermometer, notebook and pencil there and record temperatures regularly over a few days starting in the late fall. You can also buy a digital hygrometer/thermometer combination that will measure both humidity and temperature.