Friday, October 18, 2013

Sweeter With Frost - Carrots

Fresh organic carrots are great anytime of the growing season but are amazing once the plants are exposed to several light frosts. I have been picking enough carrots each week to satisfy our customers. The carrots we have been picking have been excellent, but I have been holding back on the main harvest until we get those first few frosts.

Why are they sweeter with frost? When temperatures drop below freezing the starches in the carrots turn to sugars. That is great for those of us that love carrots, but why do the carrots do this? Well sugar in the cells of the carrots is a type of antifreeze to protect the carrot from damage by ice crystals forming in the cells of the carrot. Carrots are a biennial and need to be able to overwinter to produce seed the next year.

We have an excellent late fall carrot crop this year. I planted 7 rows approximately 300 feet long toward the end of July. It took 100,000 seeds to cover this many rows. I use a strip of compost about 8-10 inches wide and 4 inches deep to provide good emergence and a weed free zone. Carrots don't need a lot of fertilizer so the compost is just right for that. It took 20,000 pounds of compost (14 pickup loads) to make the rows, so it took a couple of weeks to get this all ready.

With the stage set we now had to deal with the weather, it was very very dry about this time and I had to water a couple of times to get things started. Carrots are kind finicky that way, they don't like weeds when they are little and it takes about three weeks after planting for germination and the appearance of those first few spindly fronds. You don't quite know the status of your planting for three weeks. You just need to water thoroughly a couple of times and trust that everything is well.

Our teenagers weeded thoroughly between the rows every couple of weeks and I also ran the wheel hoe through a couple of times. So weed control has been excellent. I planted the rows about 20 inches apart so the carrots at maturity will almost shade the ground between the rows. They look beautiful planted that way.

Most of the carrots came up just fine, but I had one area where I must not have watered enough that didn't germinate. It was only about 20 feet long, so I just replanted those rows. These carrots are about three week behind the main group.

Carrots planted for fall like this need to be plated about 90 days before harvest, instead of the normal 60 days due to the shortening of the days and the drop in temperature during the last month before harvest.

We have been monitoring progress (read munching on a few carrots) for the last 3-4 weeks and things are coming along nicely.

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