Editor's note: advice on growing organic carrots.

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by Mort Mather

If you are looking out your window in March at whatever the weather is, it is snowing outside my window as I'm writing this, and wishing you could eat a fresh carrot from the garden right now; read on. We finished our last carrots this week. There were more but they were too limp to be much fun. However, we could still be eating fresh carrots until it was time to dig the first parsnips if I had prepared to do same.

First, obviously, you have to plant enough to last. I planted 200 feet of row which is about right for Barbara and I. Second, the variety should be a good storage variety. We have been planting Nantes for many years. Third, time your planting so the carrots will mature a couple of weeks before the first frost. My first frost is usually about September 20th. I plan to plant the storage carrot crop about June 20th. Last year it was actually planted June 26th. Fourth, Don't harvest until after the plants have received a killing frost. Carrots are biennials. The first year they build up energy in their root. The second year they flower and produce seeds. The frost is the signal to the plant that it is time to store energy for the winter. That is theory on my part but what is not theory is the fact that the carrots are sweeter after frost.

Having followed those steps you will have an excellent product for fall eating. Winter and early spring eating are more challenging. The carrots we just finished with were stored the cellar in a box I made out of old boards. We live in an old cape with a dirt floor cellar and water literally running through it. During the years when we heated solely with wood the temperature in the cellar was near freezing most of the winter which was ideal. Carrots, beets, rutabaga, potatoes and cabbage held all winter in those conditions. A furnace in the cellar raised the temperature and decreased the excellence of the cellar for vegetable storage. I'm now working of walling off a section to make it colder. This will take several years at the pace I'm going though I did put in some insulation between the furnace and the root storage area last fall.

My suggestion is that you think about your own situation to try to come up with a solution. You are striving for an area with high humidity and low temperature. Remember that humidity is relative, relative to the temperature. You may not think that the water evaporating from a bucket will be enough humidity but it takes less actual water in the air to raise humidity to 90% at 32 degrees than at a higher temperature. You can increase the evaporation rate by increasing the surface area of the water which might mean a large pan or draping cloth over the edges of a bucket to wick up the water.

The spring carrots can best be stored right in the garden where they grew. All you have to do is keep them from freezing. I do this by placing bales of hay over the rows, complete, intact bales which can be lifted off the row for partial harvest and replaced. This method can be used for the whole crop. It takes a lot of bales but they are excellent mulch for the next garden.

İMarch 8, 1997

Mort is a husband and father. He authored a book, Gardening For Independence and was named Environmentalist of the Year by Down East Magazine in 1987. You can eat his organic produce at his son's southern Maine restaurant. His address is 802 Bald Hill Road, Wells, ME 04090.



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