NOVEMBER – CARROTS
I love carrots and a roast dinner is just not complete without them! As November is starting to get really cold and extremely wet, it is now that we turn to comforting, filling warm winter food – casseroles, stews, roasts all containing the humble carrot! It is a vegetable that is definitely worth celebrating!
A short history of carrots!
Reports suggest that the ancestor of the carrot originated from central Asia from it’s ancestor, the wild carrot (also known as ‘Queen Anne’s Lace’ and ‘Bishop’s Lace’). The carrot was originally grown for its scented leaves and seeds rather than its root as the root was thought to be bitter and woody. Carrots were known to be eaten by the Romans as a root vegetable possibly as early as the 1st century. Carrot roots were originally purple or white. In the 17th century, dutch farmers cultivated the first orange carrots from yellow rooted varieties (a subspecies of the purple carrot thought to have lost its purple pigmentation). This orange carrot was thought to be developed as a tribute to the ‘House of Orange’ which ruled at the time. Continued cultivation of the carrot led to the sweeter, less woody roots that we now know and love!
Why should we eat carrots!
Carrots are best known for the large amounts of beta-carotene, a known anti-oxidant and also include other anti-oxidants such as Vitamin C and other phytonutrients which are important for fighting oxidative stress in the body and boosting your immune system. Research has also shown that anti-oxidants in carrots and other vegetables have a protective effect on the cardiovascular system with one study showing that those that had a high intake of carrots had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Purple carrots have large quantities of anthocyanin, another anti-oxidant.
Beta-carotene (provitamin A) is also important in vision and eye health and is partly metabolised in the liver to produce vitamin A. Whilst important for eye health, the saying that carrots help you see in the dark is actually a myth and was made up during the second world war to account for Britain’s pilots success in night raid to cover up improvements in radar technology. Vitamin A is also important for growth, development and reproduction.
Carrots provide only 41 calories per 100g and are a source of dietary fibre and contain no cholesterol and negligible fat – good for anyone on a weight loss or low cholesterol diet. Can’t really see a reason not to eat them!
How to grow carrots!
Carrots are best sown direct into the soil than planted into seed modules. Whilst you can sown into seed modules or buy plants in modules, you may end up with a higher proportion of roots that have forked. You can now get carrot mats and tapes which hold carrot seeds in a biodegradable material at the right spacing to reduce the need for thinning!
If you are sowing your seeds direct, carrots prefer a well draining soil which is free of lumps. Add lots of organic material to your compost but avoid freshly manuring you soil as carrots don’t tend to like this. Any lumps, large stones or clay can result in stunted or forked carrots.
Make drills in the soil and sow your carrots very thinly. The more thickly you sow the carrots, the harder it is to thin them out. The more thinning out you do, the more likely you will attract the dreaded carrot root fly! When sowing your seeds you are aiming for a depth of 1 cm with a spacing of 30cm between rows. Draw the soil back over your carrots making sure they are well covered and water well! Germination can take between 10-20 days.
When your carrot seedlings are large enough to handle, they will need to be thinned out. This allows each carrot room to grow into the lovely big roots we want. Thinning out can be done in stages if you wish or you can thin out to the final spacing of 10cm. By thinning out in stages, you have spare seedlings should slugs attack! For the first thinning aim to leave one seedling every 2-4cm, pulling out any in-between. About four weeks later you can further thin your carrots to the final spacing of 10cm.
Carrots should be kept weed free as they are growing and once established, only water when the ground is dry. I water the carrots once a week with a really goos soaking! If the tops of your carrots poke through the soil you can earth up around them to keep the tops from going green. Carrots can be harvested in approximately 10-12 weeks from sowing and will keep well in the ground until you need them or can be pulled and stored for months in damp sand boxes.
Problems with carrots!
The major problem you get with carrots is carrot root fly. The female carrot fly is attracted to the scent of the carrots and will lay her eggs on the surface next to carrot seedlings. The larvae then hatch and burrow into the carrot tunneling through. The larvae then pupate in the soil and when the time is right hatch into flies and the cycle starts all over again. There is no chemical control against the larvae and the best means of preventing root fly is biological.
Carrot fly are apparently weak flyers and can’t fly higher than 6 inches off the ground so barriers of enviromesh or fleece should be able to stop them. However, my carrot planters are 3ft high and I still get infestations so it might have only limited effectiveness. Covering the tops of crops with enviromesh might be better than vertical barriers.
There are now semi-resistant varieties to carrot root fly such as ‘resistafly’ and ‘flyaway’. I will be trying this varieties next year so will let you know how they go. The adult females are attracted to the scent of carrots and crushed foliage so carrots are particularly vulnerable when you are thinning the carrots. Where possible, carrot thinning should be done in the evening when the fly is less active and the thinning should be disposed or burnt immediately. You can also confuse the adult female by planting chives around the carrot seedlings as they don’t like the scent of alliums.
You can also get a nematode now which can be applied to the soil which will infect and kill the larvae from ‘Nemasys’. This is also something I plan to try next year!
If your carrots do get a root fly infestation – don’t be disheartened. If they are not to badly damaged, you can pull all your carrots and scrape away the damaged areas with a vegetable peeler, then cut your carrots up, blanch them and freeze them. If they are really badly damaged, you just have to cut your losses and throw them away!
How to cook carrots!
When it comes to cooking carrots, they can be cooked in many ways. The can be boiled, roasted, steamed or sliced and added to stir fries. They are also lovely eaten raw whether that is as crudites with a lovely houmous dip or grated onto a salad. There so many ways to use carrots! I hope you enjoy some of the recipes below and let me know what your favourite recipes are!