Thursday, April 24, 2014

From Seed to Supper: Growing Carrots in Arizona

Much to my surprise, the big hit from my winter garden this year was carrots. My broccoli, cabbage, and pretty much all of the other leafy greens failed (probably because of the extremely low nitrogen levels in my soil), but the carrots did great.

Ain't they pretty?

Carrots are ridiculously easy to grow--all you need are seeds, water, and patience. (Wait, did I say it patience and easy in the same sentence? I may need to rethink that.)

I planted my first carrot seeds outside in early October.  (There's no point in transplanting carrots. Direct seeding them outside is the only way to go.) Carrot seeds are teeny tiny, so I planted them just below the surface of the soil. I planted more seeds in late October, early December, late December, and early March. According to the University of Arizona Planting Calendar, I could have started planting carrots as early as August, and could probably plant them all the way through the end of April. Maybe I should go out and plant a few more today!

This is the hardest part. Water and wait. Water and wait. Carrots take soooooooooooooo long to germinate. They take even longer in the winter. I think I harvested my first carrots in March, so that's about 5 months! But now that things are warming up, the carrots are coming in fast and furious. My daughter and I are out in the garden all the time harvesting carrots now.

I had always thought that the top of the carrots would poke above the top of the soil when they were ready to harvest, but that's not the case in my garden. I have to dig for mine. (Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I have so much clay in my soil--I don't know.) I don't mind though, because hunting for carrots is like a treasure hunt. I put on my gloves, look for particularly leafy tops, and gently start digging in with my finger to see how big the top of the carrot is. If it's big enough, I pull the carrot. If it's still small, I cover the carrot back up.

Dig in!

Do I really need to tell you how to eat a carrot? Wash it off and start crunching! My daughter eats them as snacks all the time. She's much more excited about them now that we grow them ourselves. Parenting win! (Quick tip: If you're not going to eat it right away, cut the tops off and store it in the fridge. I'm not sure why, but they get rubbery a lot quicker otherwise.) 
Our favorites are the orange ones. We tried purple, yellow, and white ones too, but they weren't the hit I hoped they would be. (Purple are OK. Yellow are ho-hum. White taste like dirt. Sometimes the classics--in this case, good old orange carrots--are the best.) 
 Sure they look cool, but looks aren't everything

If you want to learn more about growing carrots in a Arizona, I recommend the Scientific Gardener. He's a real pro that saves seeds from carrots and breeds for specific traits. I'm a totally rookie in comparison!

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