- Author: Alison Collin
Carrots originally come from Afghanistan and have been extensively hybridized to provide a vast array of different shapes, colors and sizes – long and tapering, stump rooted, ball-shaped, as well as purple and yellow varieties. “Gourmet” varieties are usually harvested when small, at about 3” while those left in the ground to mature may grow to 10”-12” long. I have grown several different hybrid varieties in West Bishop, and they have all done well to eat as young tender carrots. The large main crop of old faithful carrots, Danvers Half Long and Chantenay Red Cored, have shown the least tendency to split or become deformed. They do need to be harvested before the ground freezes.
The seeds can be planted at regular intervals throughout the year, but it is probably better not to try to get them going in the hotter months in the Owens Valley. Carrots prefer a stone-free, sandy loam with plenty of added humus, but not high nitrogen manure which tends to make the roots fork. The soil should be deeply dug for the longer varieties, but if that is not possible, plant shorter types instead. They must have a regular supply of moisture to not split or get a corrugated appearance, and some afternoon shade is appreciated.
Figure 1: Main crop carrots sowed March 4 and harvested September 9.
Sow the seeds thinly in shallow drills and lightly cover with some light soil or compost. It is at this point that skill is needed. The fine seeds have difficulty forcing their way to the surface if a panned soil structure or crust is allowed to develop. Certainly in West Bishop the very fine clay particles present in the soil seem to rise to the surface with the first irrigation and set hard if allowed to dry out. For the time it takes the seedling to germinate keep the soil constantly moist with regular light sprinkling, or cover with a frost cloth tunnel to cut down on the evaporation due to drying winds. As soon as the seedlings are large enough to handle they should be thinned to a 1.5” spacing and as they grow larger the spacing should increase by removing alternate plants. Those removed may be eaten if large enough, but don't try to transplant them as they will not grow. Beyond this they need no special attention until harvest.
In 2014 I took advantage of the mild spring in West Bishop and sowed maincrop carrots on March 4 directly into the ground, thinned the 2” plants one month later and again three weeks after that. At this point I added a layer of lawn thatch on either side of the row to prevent the shoulders from becoming green or purple from sun exposure, and to retain moisture from the drip irrigation. I also gave them an application of half-strength Miracle Grow. I was able to pull my first decent specimens on June 7 – the “Days to Maturity” noted on the outside of seed packets are overly optimistic wherever I garden! I did not get around to using many during the summer, so they just stayed in the ground until I pulled some for the Tri-County Fair at the end of August. They were beautiful! I pulled my last ones from that sowing on October 31 and they had held up splendidly – no splits, pests or diseases, just perfectly formed, clean carrots. Some people might have considered them over mature, but neither the Red Cored Chantenay nor the Tendersweet were at all woody. They had a very good fresh carrot flavor, far superior to store-bought ones. The Chantenay were consistently weighing in at over 1lb each, some even reaching 1.25lbs!
I had planted a second sowing at the end of June, and these “normal sized ones” were ready for harvest by the end of October. However, they don't keep well in the ground if it freezes and I have not found a satisfactory method of storage in this climate. I don't grow enough to make the construction of a clamp worthwhile.