Monday, March 28, 2016

Episode 16: Wherein Organigirl (and the Organikids!) Prep a Planting Bed and Show You How to Simply Grow Carrots

Life is a funny thing. Sometimes you start something (like urban farming), then add something else (like having kids) and then add something else (like a blog) and then add one last thing (like a string of colds and flu bugs that culminated in both Organiguy and I getting pneumonia within one week of each other) and something has to give. Or someTHINGS. Those things were gardening and this blog. Organiguy and the kids I kept.

So basically the past two years have been a blur, with adding a third child to our brood and then getting sick over and over (probably from the stress of MANY CHILDREN, who are worth it), but now here I am blogging again because Organikid #3 is almost two and things don't seem quite so crazy. 

I'm going to transition this post to garden talk by mentioning that as kids get older and can do more stuff, they start to develop the ability to actually be helpful. Sometimes that means fetching a diaper or picking up a toy mess. Today the manifestation of that helpfulness was that Organikid #1 and Organikid #2 helped me prep the carrot bed. By help, I mean that they dug around in the box a little with adorable kid sized garden tools, broke up clumps of dirt, removed a few rocks, and didn't hurt anyone. It's a start. 

For the record, Organikid #3 helped by staying out of the way and playing without acquiring any injuries. 

I like to use seemingly mundane activities to help teach my kids about things like growing vegetables, so today we talked shop as we loosened soil and ooh-ed and ah-ed over the cute little worms we kept finding (an indication of happy soil, by the way). Organikid #3 joined us for the ooh-ing and ah-ing. He LOVES small living things and probably has a future in entomology (a.k.a. "bug science"). 

We started by discussing why we use a garden fork to break up the soil rather than turning over the soil (we no longer waste time and energy double digging as it disturbs the soil structure and living soil dwellers, such as nematodes and worms, more than is necessary). We drive the garden fork straight down into the soil as far as possible and then rock it back and forth, or even twist it, breaking up large clumps with our hands as we find them. 

Detour! I'm a huge fan of the Radius Garden Pro Ergonomic Digging Fork. It's what we use and I love it so much that while the rest of my tall tools are generally leaning unglamorously against a wall or tucked away in a corner of the patio, my digging fork is locked away in a storage cabinet. No affiliate links or anything else here either - I just really like my digging fork. Now back to the carrots.

Next, we talked more about the friendly worms and why they're beneficial to our garden (worms break down organic matter in the soil, and their casings, poop, are loaded with nutrients which are helpful to our growing plants). 

Finally, as we smoothed the surface of our planting bed, we talked about how level soil allows water to be distributed more evenly and ensures that all of our plants will get an equal share of moisture. When the soil in a bed is uneven, the water will naturally tend to pool in the lowest areas, leaving the hills high and dry. I'm always amazed with how easy it is to tell that I didn't do a good job leveling a bed as I watch the seeds start to sprout in clumps in the lowest areas of an uneven bed. As a result, each year I try a little harder to get the beds more level and keep my drip hoses clean and in proper working order. 

Shortly after this point the kids were ready for a play break, so I finished leveling the bed with a rake while they created some happy-swinging-sliding-digging-in-the-sand background noise. 

Later today, we'll be planting carrot seeds in neat little rows along drip lines. I plan to plant them about 1/8" deep - just covered enough to keep them moist and hidden from garden pests like ants (which are plentiful this time of year in my garden). I should mention that it's absolutely NOT necessary to plant carrots in rows. I choose to plant them in rows because it's my preference. I like to plant my carrots (and most everything) along drip lines so that they get an appropriate amount of water without much effort on my part. 

A note about succession planting: Carrots are a perfect candidate to plant a row or two at a time so that you'll have carrots for a longer period of time. Planting them 2-4 weeks apart should be appropriate.

After we sow our carrot seeds, we'll cover the rows with burlap to keep the seeds from drying out. The burlap shades the soil and keeps it moist in between drip sessions. Using burlap is a handy trick I learned from the Master Gardeners. I was certain it wouldn't work, but I was proven wrong the very first time I tried it as the seeds germinated so well that I went from thinking carrots a difficult vegetable to grow to considering them among the easiest. Unlike some other seeds, carrot seeds don't require light in order to germinate, but they won't germinate if they dry out. Burlap solves the issue easily. I'm sure there are other materials that could be used for the same purpose, but I haven't yet taken the time to explore that option. 

The carrots will be watered twice daily (10 minutes per drip session).  Once the majority of the seeds have germinated, the burlap will be removed. After another couple of weeks or so, the drip sessions will be reduced to once daily. Even watering is important when growing vegetables, so drip irrigation is a major contributor to my success - and occasionally my failure when it malfunctions and I'm not paying attention enough to notice. 

When the carrots are well established, and before the roots start to really fatten up, thinning the plants is an option. I rarely thin my carrot plants because, well, it's labor intensive. If you want your carrots to grow more happily, straighter, and perhaps a little fatter, consider thinning them to about two inches apart. To thin them, simply snip the tops off of unwanted plants at the soil line. The roots of thinned plants will rot and make room for the rest of your carrots to grow unimpeded. 

This year we'll be growing two varieties of carrots. The first is called "Parisienne" and they are hands down our favorite variety. They are round, rather than the traditional carrot shape, and they're wonderfully sweet and flavorful. Because of their shape, they typically don't have the standard issues with forking that you might see with a long, skinny carrot. They also work well in containers, so if you thought you couldn't grow carrots because you didn't have enough space, think again!

The other variety of carrot we'll be growing this year is a variety new to me called "Chantenay Red Core". Baker Creek Heirloom seeds (where I purchase all of my seeds) calls it, "a large, stump-rooted carrot with a deep red-orange center; great for juicing or fresh eating." From the picture on the package, it appears to be something in between a round and a standard shaped carrot (on the long side, but considerably fatter than a standard carrot), so I'm curious to see how they turn out in my garden. I like to try new varieties of vegetables from time to time and compare them to our favorites, so we'll see how these stack up.

When the tops of our carrots begin to reach about 1" wide, we'll start pulling up the occasional tester carrot. I love small, fresh carrots because of their sweetness, though if they're too young they won't taste good and won't be crunchy. If they're too old, they'll be woody and generally unpleasant - another reason to plant a row or two of carrots every couple weeks during the planting season. You can dig down to the carrot top if yours happen to be below the soil line and thus difficult to see. 
I'm already thinking about delicious soups and stews made with fresh carrots, and kale and carrots sauteed together with a little vinegar! Happy growing.

Depth to Plant Seeds: Surface sow or cover very lightly (I plant about 1/8" deep).
Seed Spacing: 2", or scatter sow and thin to 2" when seedlings are a few inches high.
Row Spacing: 6-8" (or even closer - experiment and see what works in your garden with the varieties you're growing)
Watering: Water very regularly while seeds are germinating. Carrot seeds must be kept moist in order to germinate. Some gardeners cover their newly planted carrot beds with burlap to retain moisture, removing the burlap as soon as the seeds germinate (at which point they'll need light). After germination, water regularly.
Special Considerations: Growing in well dug soil will help prevent carrots from growing strange shaped roots. If growing in containers, try a variety called Parisienne, which grows small round roots rather than long skinny roots. Parisienne carrots are available from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (

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