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Carrots – Inspiring or boring?

Updated on July 8, 2014

Carrot Consumption

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I’ve often considered carrots an uninspiring vegetable, always served with chops, beans and potatoes, often served in salads, sometimes added to hearty winter vegetable soups. Carrots are in season for the most part of the year in a Mediterranean climate and can easily be taken for granted or overlooked, considered boring, or not worth growing because they never seem to be very expensive. We always seem to have carrots in the fridge and when we don’t we automatically buy more.

According to the World Carrot Museum (yes you read correctly, there is a group of people dedicated to preserving the history and promoting the growing of carrots!), the average person eats around 6 kgs or 13 lbs of carrots each year. I used to eat mine dutifully, making sure I had at least 3 colours on my plate. Carrots were an easy addition to most meals, but I never considered them inspiring. That was until I started growing my own.

Home Grown Carrots, freshly dug from the front garden
Home Grown Carrots, freshly dug from the front garden

Home grown carrots, have a flavour and a colour of their own, which doesn’t compare to that of mass produced, shipped-a-long-way carrots. Given a reasonable soil they can be relatively easy to grow and can produce food for around 9 months of the year. With the pretty green tops they can be deceiving as they have lovely ferny, delicate-looking foliage which belies the hunk of beta carotene which lays beneath the surface.

Sow seeds as thinly as possible 12-20mm deep in rows 150mm apart. Space them between 50 and 100mm apart. If your soil is full of clay or rocks, you may need to add some sand or other organic mix to the bed so that the carrot roots can push through the soil.

Ideally you are looking for a fine tilthy soil, which turns easily. If you don’t have this in your garden beds, try growing them in raised garden beds where you can completely control the soil, by introducing they type of soil carrots will like. Mixing the seeds with a bit of clean river sand will help distribute the tiny fine seeds in a reasonably even way.

Once you’ve sown the seeds, keep watering them, making sure they don’t dry out while you are waiting for germination, but don’t flood them. Germination takes 10 to 12 days depending on soil temperature – faster germination occurs in the warmer months. Once they have germinated, thin them to 5 -10 cm apart. I planted some in my front garden bed this year which is completely exposed to the footpath and so far I don’t think any have been sampled by passers-by. Anyone who is not a gardener probably won’t recognise them by their tops, so they are fairly safe to plant in reasonably public places without fear of anyone harvesting them without your permission. Make sure you keep the weeds under control – carrots don’t like the competition and will simply not put their roots down.

Coloured carrots provide even more nutritional diversity and colour to your plate
Coloured carrots provide even more nutritional diversity and colour to your plate

There are plenty of heritage varieties of carrot seeds available if you don’t like yours orange. Try purple, pink or yellow carrots on your plate for a bit of variety. Just be aware of what you cook with them.

I’ve eaten purple mashed potatoes in the past, because I cooked the purple carrots in a steamer basket on top of the potatoes! The steamy water dripped through the steamer holes and coloured the potatoes too. Which is fine if you like all your vegetables to end up the same shade of puce, but if you’re looking for a bit of variety in your plating up, then watch where you steam them.

On the upside they can provide a lovely unexpected colour and flavour to your favourite dish.

Harvest your carrots when the top of the carrot is 2-5cm in diameter. How long it takes from germination to harvest will depend on the planting times – those planted in summer will be quicker than those planted in cooler seasons. However, you don’t need to harvest them all at the same time. You can pick them as you need them and they will keep well in the soil for many months. Remove their tops before storing, and if you have chooks, feed the greens to them – they will thank you for it by laying eggs with delicious yellow yolks. Wash and keep carrots in the fridge in airtight bags to retain moisture.

If you’re considering saving seeds from your carrots, it’s worth remembering that the carrot plant is biennial – it completes its life cycle in two years. In the first year it stores what it is going to use in its second year to produce seed. We interrupt its life cycle by harvesting the roots in the first year before it has time to fully reach maturity. In the first year the plant produces the fleshy tap root which is eaten. If left in the ground the plant will flower the following spring and the seeds can be harvested after flowering.

Once you’ve harvested your carrots you can decide if you want yours boring or inspiring, steamed or glazed in honey, grated or julienned, thrown into a soup (try carrot and coriander for a flavoursome meal in a bowl) or slow cooker, roasted with your favourite Sunday best or eaten raw and crunchy for maximum beta-carotene. Combined with beetroot creates a colourful raw salad, and of course there’s always the classic favourite of carrot cake with cream cheese icing. Sweet or savoury, I now find them inspiring and love the vibrant colours, crisp crunch and amazing flavour that you just don’t get from shop bought carrots.

Why not plant some this spring and be inspired by a vegetable which has its own museum!

If you’ve never prepared carrots before, then check out this cute video I found which demonstrates four ways to prepare carrots quickly and easily!

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