Cold Winter, Sweet Carrots


Photo by Carol Ann Sayle

An organic farm without carrots knows it should be pitied. The long crayon-colored roots with their ferny leaves are the poster child for fresh veggies. They are the electric bites of color all the customers, especially the children, want in their market baskets.

This winter, we've been lucky to have them in great abundance. It is a Carrot Year. Not every year is. Often in the past, when fall has been especially hot and dry, we've had serious trouble getting them to even germinate. A too-cold winter soil has caused us fits in other years.

Carrots just put folks in a happy state, and now, in the proper mood, they are ready to be nourished.

But this year, we're elated. Four varieties of carrots, three colors. Orange (long and skinny); orange (short and chubby); yellow; and red.

We place the mound of carrots on the first table that greets our farm stand customers. You can see the glow of those carrots from the road 300 feet down our driveway. Children are drawn to them as if they were pure sugar. This year they are, since a cold winter intensifies their sweetness.

I plant carrots in a rather old-fashioned way. After we've prepared the 40-inch-wide, 200-foot-long beds with fertilizer, amendments, and our own compost, I draw three shallow trenches through the soft soil with my half-moon hoe. Then my hand sprinkles the seeds into the trenches, sunshine illuminating the lighter-colored seeds as they flutter through the air. I don't worry about planting them too closely, as we will sell baby carrots as we thin. The remaining carrots will be our big ones.

It's our experience that we can make the most of a crop by selling it as it develops, baby to mature (beets, carrots, turnips) or by selling nutritious parts of it that are typically not used (like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower leaves). Many of our customers, which include a number of chefs, like the idea of tiny veggies anyway. A tender novelty, perhaps, a quick sauté. I think most of them have their own teeth, so it's not a matter of mastication problems.

In addition, carrots provide such a color snap in the farm stand. We generally are loaded with all shades of greens, as well as green broccoli, and even green Romanesco cauliflower, so to have the spice of orange, red, and yellow makes all the green items look even more delicious. Carrots just put folks in a happy state, and now, in the proper mood, they are ready to be nourished.

A carrot year is like that.