Vegetable of the Month!

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!

carrot_mr-fothergills
Image credit: Mr Fothergills

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!

carrot-nutrition

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!

forked-carrot
Image credit: Carrot museum

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-growing
Image credit: diynetwork.com

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.

20161106_carrots harvest rot fly.jpg
My carrot harvest – slightly damaged by carrot root fly

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!

20161106-prepped-carrots
Carrots once the damaged parts had been removed. I then chopped them up, blanched them and froze them. They will be saved for Christmas day!

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!

Carrot recipes!

Yummy Scrummy Carrot Cake

yummy-scrummy-carrot-cake_1

Carrot and coriander soup

carrot-and-coriander-soup

Honey-glazed Roast Carrots

Honey glazed raost carrots.jpg

References:

Advertisements

Jobs for November

November is normally a month when I really do start to retreat into the house and last weeks weather was so drizzly and wet I thought the weather had finally turned. However, the forecast for the next week is showing more sunshine and higher temperatures than normal so I will probably won’t be retreating into the house just yet especially when there is still quite a lot to do!

Plot 1

To be fair, this is the easiest plot as it is all raised beds. Half the beds are manured, covered and put away for winter and the ones that aren’t are still semi productive! Mostly this plot needs tidying and a bit of weeding so not many jobs to do this month on this plot!

  • Tidying and clean out shed
  • Stock take of all tools, fertilisers etc
  • Tidy up the rhubarb bed, lift and divide one crown and mulch the remaining crowns
  • Plant new strawberry plants at top of the plot
  • Weed the paths and lay new barkchip
DSCF9110
The bottle-lined bed will be the new home of my strawberry plants for the next three years!

Plot 2

We managed to get quite a lot done on this plot last month and the structure is almost complete. My aim this month is to try and finish putting all the structure in (except for the leek bed which is still in use) and get it ready for next year!

  • Plant garlic, onions and shallots,
  • Dig over old bean bed, split bed in 2 and manure
  • Put in raised beds on the old onion and bean plots
  • Clear out polytunnel
  • Tidy up strawberry bed (been on my to-do list for three months now!)
  • Tidy up fruit cage (again!)
20161023_1547491
Raised beds to go on the old onion bed and the bean bed (at the back) needs digging over!

Plot 3

There isn’t much that I plan to do on plot 3 this month simply because I want to get the other two plots up to scratch before I embark on finishing clearing plot 3. Plus half of it is covered in piles of weeds, rubbish and wood that needs burning!

  • Weed herb garden and finishing mulching
  • Oca may need harvesting this month
  • Bonfire!
20160925_1301271
Left hand side of the herb garden needs weeding and mulching!

If the weather turns cold and wintery at any point this month then I will be hiding away and not much will get done but fingers crossed it holds for a bit longer! Every bit I can get done now is something I don’t have to do in the spring!

October 2016

This month has turned cold yet still sunny and I was on the look out for frosts everyday! My butternut squash were ripening in the sun and my sweet potatoes were romping away but I knew I had to get them in before any frosts arrived!

The beginning of the month saw a lovely delivery of well-rotted manure which I immediately put to good use. I have been really trying to make sure all the beds are dug over, manure added and then covered for winter this month leaving me all of the remaining winter months to concentrate on clearing and structuring the rest of plot 3.

20161008_1053261
Manure delivery!

We dug over the garlic bed and winter shallot/onion beds and then constructed raised beds ready for the garlic and shallots to be planted at the end of the month. Although the drizzly weather last Saturday stopped that from happening and Sunday we were at the Farmers Market so garlic, onions and shallots will be planted first thing next Saturday!

When making the raised beds, we always build the bed first, then position the whole structure and bash it into the ground with a heavy mallet. However, this time we discovered just how uneven our plot is! For some reason, which I don’t think is anything to do with me, the path between my plot and the neighbours angles steeply downward toward my plot. (I am not sure how that came to pass as it only does that towards the end of the plot and not at the top.) Anyway we decided it would be best to try and build up the soil around that area to level off the path. It will take a long time for the path to level off and for the grass to grow (and hopefully our efforts won’t annoy our neighbour) but it should make things like wheeling the wheelbarrow and mowing the grass much easier for everyone! Sam also put a wooden barrier along one side of the pond beds (where we had previously had plastic lawn edging) which again will help with keeping everything tidy and making it easier to mow the grass.

20161023_154807[1].jpg

On plot 1 we replaced the rotting carpet we used a weed control by the bramble stump. It was no longer being effective at preventing the weeds and we frustrating had to pull it up in 1cm strips as it had completely disintegrated! We replaced it with weed control membrane (the permeable plasticky stuff) which will hopefully last a bit longer! I purchase some stump killer sachets to kill off the bramble once and for all! I have applied the stump killer but now just waiting to see if it works!

All the pumpkins were harvested the first weekend of October, followed by the butternut and honey bear squash in the middle of October. I am not happy with the colour on the squash and am sure they are not quite ripe but the slugs had started hollowing out one of the squash so decided it best to bring them in and try and further ripen them on the windowsill.

20161101_153045[1].jpg
A selection of squash ripening on the windowsill!

The third weekend in October, I came down to the plot to find the leaves on the sweet potato all black. I know this is frost damage so decided now was the time to dig up the plants and find out just what kind of harvest I had. As you have probably seen from my previous post I was quite happy with my first try at growing sweet potatoes but there were many lessons to be learned and I will hope to do even better next year!

20161017_1813511
My haul of sweet potato ‘Bonita’ 

Jenny and Adam joined us down the allotment in the fourth weekend which was very appreciated! They are very hard workers and always get done twice the amount I have planned. The old onion bed was dug over, divided up into smaller beds and the soil was manured.

20161023_154749[1].jpg
Onion beds divided, dug over and manured by Jenny and Adam!

The sweet potato bed was also dug over and manured and they gave Sam and I a hand with constructing and placing the new raised beds on the old potato plot! As a thankyou, I sent them home with quite a bit of veg which I hope they enjoyed!

20161023_154728[1].jpg
Potato beds made, manured and covered.

Sam and I dug over all the old squash beds as well, manured them and covered them ready for beans next year. I also thinned out the hazel as it was getting a bit crowded in there.

As I said this last weekend was a bit drizzly ad I didn’t feel in the mood for hard allotment work so instead we had a quick clear out and tidy of the shed on plot 3 and then a nice little visit to our local Wyevale garden centre for some allotment shopping! (Sam wouldn’t let me look at the Christmas stuff though!)

All in all I am starting to feel a little ahead of the game and hope that with all this prep work now, I won’t be rushing around trying to keep up next year! (Well at least I can dream!)