Ah carrots. How you've tested me over the years. You've been eaten by numerous critters at the seed and seedling stage so that 1000s of seeds became 3 seedlings. You've refused to germinate because of drought or dry conditions (and my lack of irrigation). You've managed to grow only in little clumps that I didn't have the motivation to thin so that you were pathetic. I've sown you over and over and over all season until finally in late summer, you took giving me a nice carpet of greenery and not much else. I've let these little sproutlings to overwinter to see if they wouldn't vernalize and therefore produce more a root in the spring. Sometimes this worked, sometimes not.
I've experimented with numerous germination strategies. Sowing with the melt, fall sowing, sowing after the seedling eaters have moved on, sowing with water holding material. Germination boards attract the seedling eating bugs, irrigation isn't feasible here, but a fine sprinkling of green material and a row cover seem to be the ticket!
In 2015, I finally was able to start my colourful carrot project. Admittedly, this is hardly original though my goal was not to produce a full spectrum of carrot colour but to concentrate on the deeply coloured varieties of red, purple, and deep orange - lycopene, anthocyanin and beta carotene respectively. From these, I was hoping to get some vitamin rich diversity. From the 100s, if not 1000s of seeds, I sowed that year, I got some. Don't ask me how many as I wasn't really expecting this project to move forward, but it was no more than 100. And from that, I selected only those with a Danvers-Chantenay root shape (more or less) - wide shoulders, short root, with minimal damage, no signs of disease and a deep colour. There were a few reds, mostly oranges and a few dragon type purples (ie. purple with orange/yellow cores).
I overwintered in ground, on purpose. Carrots are only partially reliable here overwinter but I would like to be able to create a variety that is not only able to grow and produce quality roots but also seeds in our conditions.
In 2016, they went to flower. There was a neat variation in flower shape though none had pink flowers - one of my fantasies. Perhaps in this year's crop I might get some like that. Luckily, I have almost no Queen Anne's Lace on the property. Any that appears is removed immediately and seems to come in from outside soil. My growing space is surrounded by forest and there is almost no QAL in the farmer's ditches either. When I see any, I clip it or dig it up. I"m not sure how the farmer's feel about that... no one has said anything. So these carrots were left to open pollinate.
Seed was sown in the moist spring soil in 2017. I sprinkled the ground with a little straw and then laid over a row cover. Given my impressive record of failure, I shouted with glee when they started to sprout in number! Still the cutworms disappeared whole parts of the 50 foot row. I resowed. The cutworms and slugs grew fatter. I transplanted seedlings... yes, I did. This explains some of the shapes come harvest time... Eventually, the pests retreated and the carrots grew well.
If it weren't for the increase in the rodent population, I would have held off harvesting until November. A few holes (some from children and other folk that reported how delicious the carrots were in that long row over there) later, I decided that I had better do root selection before numbers dwindled.
Though I do want to select for carrots that grow and seed well in our conditions, I have hedged my bets this year. A selection are in a clamp in a polytunnel outside and some more are in a safer storage condition where I can monitor them.
We've eaten many meals and I can safely say that they are very yummy. The ones with white-yellow cores have a satisfying sturdy texture. The 'black' type are sweet and delicious, becoming darker in colour with cooking. So far, I like the results!
Plans for 2018
* Grow out a second row of 2016 seed
* Plant both sets of carrots - a) all 'black' and b) multicoloured in separate tunnels.
* Select for bright or darkly coloured cores only and stipple (sample)
* Plant in ground with simple mulch about a third of the selection, enough for genetic diversity to select for easy overwintering, if possible.
All about growing, selecting and using edible plants in the Ottawa valley.