I love carrots. Pulled from the ground and washed, they can be eaten as is or served up with dip. Steamed, they are a perfect vegetable to serve with chicken or turkey. Little rounds can be cut and tossed into soups. Grated, they are a delightful addition to sauerkraut. Having a root cellar, they are also super-easy to keep.
Carrots, however, are not easy to grow. Fresh fertilizer in the spring causes them to split so they have to be dosed in the fall. The main problem, though, is getting them to germinate. Carrots take from ten to fourteen days to come up out of the ground and, during this entire period, they are living in the top ¼ to ½ inch of soil. That means that this very top part of the soil needs to be kept moist the entire time. On warm, sunny, windy days these beds may need to be watered four or five times. If you have raised beds like I do, this is critical.
I only plant my carrots when I know that I am not going anywhere for the next ten to fourteen days. No trips, no visits to the seacoast, no kayaking and no journeys to see friends. I may be able to sneak in a lunch out or a visit to the local store, but I generally water the carrot bed both before I go and after I get back.. It can be helpful if there is a rainy period coming up.
So this year, I decided to try something different. I had bought some coconut coir to put on my icy patches (will write about that this fall) and I had quite a bit left over. This coconut coir is ground up coconut shells—it's completely natural and organic and it used to be pure waste. And it's super-absorbant and holds onto moisture quite well. So I decided to put a layer of coir just under the carrot seeds to see if that would help the watering issue.
I prepared my bed as usual adding soil amendments and loosening the soil with a broad fork although instead of adding fresh compost, I took a couple of half buckets of soil off of the top of the carrot bed.
Having raked it flat, I put a layer of coir right under where the carrot seeds were going to go.
I tossed the seeds on top of this and covered it all with the soil in the buckets.
I then watered it well. Placing my hand on top of the bed over the next few days, I was amazed at how wet it felt most of the time. We did have some rain which helped, but I didn't have to watter nearly as much as I had in the past to keep the carrot seed moist. And my carrots germinated gorgeously.
I will have to thin them quite a bit as the season progresses, but it's nice to have them available. Give it a try and see if it works for you.
Celeste Longacre and her husband, Bob, have lived sustainably for more than 35 years. They grow almost all of their vegetables for the year and preserve them by freezing, canning, drying and using a home -built root cellar. Celeste ferments much of the couple’s produce and makes her own sauerkraut, kimchee, and fruit and beet kvass. She is the author of Celeste’s Garden Delights and writes a gardening blog for The Old Farmer’s Almanac. For more information, visit Celeste’s website, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.