Dining out with my husband in Blowing Rock this week I enjoyed a garden staple which a master chef had raised to a sublime state. While my culinary skills won’t produce a transformative dining experience, I do grow tasty carrots and you can, too.
Success with carrots starts by choosing a variety that matches your garden plot conditions. Blessed with deep, loose planting beds? Maybe you want to try “Scarlet Nantes” or “Imperator 58” varieties. Both do well in North Carolina and can produce long, slender carrots. But they require room to dive down, so give them at least 12 inches or more.
Gardeners with shallower soils would do well to try “Mini Pak” or “Spartan Winner.” With shorter roots both varieties can be grown more tightly and harvested earlier. There are even options for growing carrots in containers — check out “Orbit” or “Thumbelina” their short, round roots are perfect for small spaces.
Once you have identified the variety suited for your location you can begin planting now until May. Press seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch into the soil. Spacing is important with carrots, as planted too close they won’t develop properly. So limit yourself to two or three seeds per inch. For larger varieties you’ll need to thin them back to one per inch. Germination can take up to two weeks so be patient.
Carrots grow slowly and while they are a cool-weather crop if temperatures threaten to dip low be sure to cover your young charges. Keep them moist and protected from critters. Bunnies can consume their leafy tops starving the roots while deer will just rip the entire carrot from the ground.
Spring carrots typically need 120 days to mature but check your seed packets to project harvest times. You can sow seeds in succession two weeks apart to ensure you have a variety of sizes to choose from.
Begin harvesting when the shoulders of the roots are 1/2 inch in diameter. They may be visible at the surface or you may need to gently push the soil away from the base of the green tops to check the size of the carrot root.
Executive Chef Seth Parker, of the Bistro Roca created my carrot moment. He makes a brine with rice vinegar, whole pepper corns, coriander seed, seeded jalapeños, shallot, garlic, ginger, and sugar, heating it and then straining it over thinly sliced carrots. He lets them sit for about an hour and then cools them. His carrots can be stored in their brine mix for in the refrigerator for up to a week.
With my carrots I simply eat them right out of the garden after washing them. Simple or sublime, I’ll have carrots for months ahead to enjoy.
Lise Jenkins and Kit Flynn are contributing columnists. Absent from their gardens, they enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of innovation and horticulture. More on Twitter @AbsenteGardener or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.