The story of that bunch of carrots you got in your CSA box starts with the seed catalogs that begin arriving in December. If you’re like me, in addition to the stand-bys, you look for the heirlooms and anything that’s purple. This year’s order included Danvers, Napoli, Atomic Red, Yellowstone, White Satin, Dragon, and Scarlet Keeper. All of the varieties that we use have to be organic, per MOFGA certification standards, and we have to keep our seed order receipts as part of the documentation that our inspector will check. After we send in the seed order, we figure out our field rotations and succession schedules (also part of the documentation that we have to have on hand for our inspector). We plant four or five successions of carrots in a season.
Fast forward to April: time to plant, whether we like it (or the weather cooperates) or not. Our farm is organized into groups of permanent raised beds that constitute crop families that are rotated every year. Step one is to prep the bed: weed, add compost, broadfork, tilth the top layer of soil, mark the rows. This process is usually pretty challenging in the early season. Often we have to hand seed the first plantings of carrots because the soil is so wet that the seeder gets clogged. However, we prefer the wet soil to last season’s drought, as carrots need consistent moisture in order to germinate. Last year, we and most of our farmer friends lost several plantings of carrots to the dry conditions; sometimes even irrigation is not enough.
Carrots take a while to germinate - up to two weeks in the cold wet spring - and usually the dormant weed seeds wake up first. As soon as we can discern the rows of carrots, we cultivate the bed with a stirrup hoe in order to temporarily slow the progression of the weeds. Flame weeding is another option but must be carefully timed so as not to also singe the emerging carrots. We repeat the stirrup hoe weeding several times before the carrots are ready for harvest. Often the carrots need to be thinned before harvest as well.
At harvest time, we bunch the carrots in the field with rubber bands, then take them to the washing station for cleaning. Finally, they go into the walk-in cooler for storage before distribution.
Carrots are high in beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, the B vitamins, and a balanced profile of minerals. They are high in natural sugar, so including them and other sweet vegetables (like beets) in your diet can help quell your craving for sweets. According to Chinese Traditional Medicine, carrots benefit the lungs, improve liver function, help with hormone regulation, and can help treat indigestion. Once ingested, carrots are alkaline forming. This characteristic, along with high levels of beta carotene in carrots, make them helpful in the prevention of cancer.
Carrots are great raw, grated into salads or as part of a vegetable slaw, as well as braised with a little butter and honey, and roasted and served drizzled with a tahini sauce. Don’t forget to use the carrot tops for pesto: cut off the bottom third or so of the bunch of tops, saving the leafiest parts to use in place of basil in your favorite pesto recipe. The tops have the additional nutritional benefit of vitamin K.