Happy Easter! A holiday of traditions; church services, hats, decorated eggs, chocolate, baskets and bunnies. And carrots — this is a garden column after all.
If you haven’t done so, now is the time to plant carrots. Generally, they are planted a month before the last frost. For us here in Charleston, that frost date is usually about mid-May.
Carrots like loose, rich soil. It’s worth the extra time to really work the soil, breaking up any clumps and sifting out small rocks.
Remember, it’s the roots of the plant that we enjoy, so giving them an easy environment to grow through is important. If they encounter rocks or hard soil, the roots will split or bend. Then, well, you will have ugly carrots.
Carrot seeds are tiny and best planted directly into the soil. There’s no need to plant them deep — ¼-inch to ½-inch will be OK. Carrots are slow growers; you will see sprouts in a couple of weeks.
A trick gardeners use to mark the rows where they plant carrots is to seed them with quick-growing radishes. After all that hard work of preparing the soil, you don’t want to forget where they are planted.
When the plants are about 2 inches high, it’s a good idea to thin them out. This means pinching off the tops and not disturbing the roots below. Try to give 2 inches between tops. You may need to do this again as they grow, making sure the roots have plenty of energy and room to reach their full size.
Carrots like moist soil, as it helps the seeds germinate. Water them generously when first planted, but be careful not to wash out the tiny, shallow planted seeds. If the soil gets too dry, it becomes difficult for the roots to grow through, so water regularly.
If you notice the carrot crowns coming above ground, cover them with soil or mulch. This will keep them from turning green and bitter. Even though carrots are a root crop, they still like to have full sun or light shade.
Plan on your carrots maturing 50-70 days after planting. How will you know when to harvest? The best way is to simply pull one up and check its size. Be gentle — it might be easier to water the ground before harvesting.
A little fact about carrots — they are related to dill, fennel and Queen Anne’s Lace. Like most herbs, carrots can be grown in containers. Choose a pot that is at least 12 inches deep and has loose, well-draining soil, then make sure it gets plenty of sun.
Whether you plant them in the ground or in a container, remember rabbits love carrots. So do deer, groundhogs and possums. Deer will pull them out of the ground, but Flopsy, Mopsy and Peter Cottontail are trickier — they will dig.
If you have rabbits, you will need to be clever. Remember, Mr. McGregor’s gate didn’t keep Peter out of the garden, so you might think about putting chicken wire or mesh buried underground around the perimeter of your area.
One other carrot of wisdom (a feeble attempt at garden humor), the baby carrots you love at the grocery store, they are not carrots harvested early. They are either a specific variety or shaved to the smaller size.
Although most of us think of bright orange carrots, there are many other varieties, such as purple, white and yellow. Think what a beautiful edible display you could create with all these colors. We all have a bit of extra time; this might be the year to add a new variety to the garden.
Whether you celebrate Easter with church bells or cottontails, enjoy your day. Should you over indulge in a Beatrix Potter feast of blackberries, milk and bread, remember that Mrs. Rabbit’s cure to wind down the day is a cup of chamomile tea thinking of family and friends.