Eating carrots right out of the garden in the winter is a real treat. Once they are kissed by the frost, they begin to sweeten up. That’s why I don’t bother growing carrots to eat in the summer anymore — I’m spoiled by the winter carrots. To have them in winter, however, I have to plant them in the summer. The carrots you see in the picture were pulled January 18. They were planted on June 27, seeding into furrows hoed between rows of rye stubble. In the fall I broadcast rye seed, except where the carrots will be planted the following summer. In that bed I plant the seed in rows to allow for carrot planting between the rows later.
Here in Virginia in Zone 7, our ground rarely freezes for an extended time, so I can pull carrots most anytime I want. If we are going to have snow cover or freezing ground, I harvest what I’ll need ahead of time. If your ground does freeze for an extended time, or you have snow cover, you would want to mulch the carrots with leaves or straw. With the mulch over them, the tops will die, but that’s okay. Even when the rest of the area is frosty, or even frozen, your carrots will be protected and easy to pull. If you have problems with voles, don’t put the mulch down too early. Wait until you’ve been hit with some cold weather for a bit so that the voles find other winter homes. Your carrots will be fine. You could mulch an area somewhere away from your carrots so that the voles will go there first.
When you are digging the carrots you might want to have an organized system for the harvest, particularly if the bed is mulched, since you can’t see where they are. Start at one end of the bed and go from there. Harvest what you need in the kitchen for the next week or so, then mark that spot where you left off. You could use a stick or your garden fork, if you are one of those who leave your fork in the garden through the winter. Then you can find your way to that spot to begin harvesting next time.
Carrots are biennial, going to seed the second year. In early March, the carrots will want to send up a seed stalk and grow hairy roots. If you still have some left, dig them up and store them in plastic bags in the vegetable drawers of your refrigerator. Think of that as your root cellar with ever-changing offerings. They could keep for the next month in there if you have enough to last that long. I plant carrots in June to allow enough time for them to reach maturity by mid-October. If we begin eating them then and continue into April with the ones stored in the fridge, we have carrots on the menu for six months—all from one planting in June. You have to pay some attention to get them off to a good start in the summer, but it’s worth it. Find out more about winter carrots at Homeplace Earth. When you dig the last of them in March, the bed is ready for your next crop. Spread compost and whatever organic amendments your soil may need and plant. If you don’t plant something then, Mother Nature will plant something for you and you will have to deal with it later.
Learn more about Cindy Conner and what she’s up to at www.HomeplaceEarth.wordpress.com.