Sunday, January 11, 2015

End of Season Review - Carrots and Radishes


Carrots

I love carrots.  They are pretty high up on the must have veg to grow in the garden as every single member of my family really enjoys them.  Either cooked or raw they are an essential part of our everyday food.

This year I grew 3 varieties of carrots.  Two of them – Scarlet Nantes and Little Finger - I had grown before; Chantenay Red Core was new to the garden this year.  I used Granny’s seeds mats, which I talked about HERE and I covered the bed with Agribon to keep it moist after sowing – a trick I learned from Daphne.  Both of these techniques worked very well and the carrots came up beautifully.  Once the Agribon was removed, I sprinkled the bed liberally with diatomaceous earth to ward off any sluggy predators.

Little Finger

I’m still finding my way when it comes to growing carrots.  Specifically, I’m trying to figure out when to sow them and when to harvest them.

This year, I harvested the carrots much too early.  I had it in my head that I would be growing two rounds of carrots in the same bed - a main season variety and then a shorter season variety in the fall.  As it turns out, I was way off when it came to timing.  I kept waiting for my spring planting to size up and by August 1st, I just couldn’t wait any longer.  I pulled up a few carrots and they seemed to be an ok size, so I dug them all up.

Then I compared them with my harvest from 2012.  The Little Finger were fine, but the Scarlet Nantes were just over ½ the size they should have been (see table below).  Some of the carrots were what I would refer to as "runts" - atypically small - which can skew the average.  If I considered only the "normal" carrots, the difference was even larger, this year's carrots being 57% smaller (71 grams in 2012 vs. 31 grams this year).

Scarlet Nantes
 
The Chantenay Red Core seemed very small as well, averaging just over half an ounce each.  Even though I have nothing to compare these too, I find it very hard to believe that this would be the size of a fully grown carrot.

What surprises me is that both the Nantes & Chantenay days to harvest was listed at around 70 days and I harvested them after 81.  Even if you took into account the 10 days for them to germinate, that should still be enough time for them to size up fully.  Are the days to harvest on the carrot packets referring to days to a “harvestable” carrot vs. a full size carrot (much like days to harvest on peppers are actually days from transplanting (vs. sowing) to a mature, green (vs. ripe red) pepper)?  One thing I also have to keep in mind is that the carrots shared the bed this year with the chard - if you read my review on the chard, you will recall that this bed is the shadiest bed in the garden.  So perhaps that was another factor that resulted in slower growth.

Chantenay Red Core
 
Oh well, I thought, there's still the fall carrot harvest to look forward to.

I choose 2 quick maturing varieties (Amsterdam Maxi – 45-55 days and Sprint - 42 days).  I sowed them in the beginning of August……and got exactly zilch for my efforts.  Germination was sparse (I think I was a bit slack on watering the bed after seeding) but even where the seeds did germinate, the foliage grew only a few inches and that was it.  I eventually just pulled the whole lot & not one root was bigger than an actual “root”.  And that is why I didn’t list Amsterdam & Sprint as varieties that I grew this year as I actually didn’t end up growing either of them.



I enjoyed both the Chantenay Red Core and Scarlet Nantes in terms of flavour – not outstanding, but good.  Little Finger had the biggest per sq. ft. yield, but they were the loser when it came to taste, which was decidedly bland.  Another interesting point was that after a couple of months in cold storage, the Scarlet Nantes also had a bland flavour.  The Chantenay Red Core, however, held on to its flavour much better.


Prior Year Comparison

2012

2012 was my first year growing carrots.  I was a bit paranoid about sowing the seeds as I knew they could take a long time to germinate.  I wasn’t sure if I could keep that top layer of soil constantly moist all that time so I decided to pre-germinate the seeds.  I tried several different pre-germination methods and, although I was ultimately successful, all of them were messy and tedious.

So with all of my pre-germinating experimentation, the carrots got off to a late start, not getting into the ground until end of May/early June.  In late July/early August, I started harvesting a carrot here and there, just to see how they were sizing up.  I harvested the bulk of the carrots on October 11.



As I already mentioned, compared to this year, there was little difference in the average size of the Little Finger variety, even though they were in the ground an extra 42 days.  Giving Scarlet Nantes that extra time, however, resulted in carrots that were twice as large.  Also, according to my notes, those picked in October were decidedly sweeter than those picked in August, which is not a huge surprise.

2013

Last year I tried a fall sowing of carrots.  I only had 4 beds and was itching to try other crops, so I waited until my bush beans were done to sow the carrots.  I sowed them on August 1st & they started to germinate within 10 days.  But not two weeks later, I noticed that the seedlings seemed to be slowly disappearing.  By the time I realized what was going on, it was too late - all of my seedlings were gone.  The likely culprits?  Slugs. 

So my carrot total for 2013 was a big, fat zero.  I now realize that had the slugs not gotten to the carrot seedlings, I likely wouldn’t have harvested a crop anyhow as August 1st is way too late to sow a fall crop, judging by my failed attempt this year.

On a positive note, I learned about & used Granny’s seed mats for the first time and they worked out very well…much better than all the pre-germinating tediousness from the prior year.


Overall Impressions & Plan for Next Year

I think I need to grow a few different carrot varieties next year as I have yet to be bowled over by any of the varieties I have grown so far.  Because I’m still trying to figure out my timing, I’m not sure if lack of flavour has to do with when I am growing/harvesting the carrots (as carrots generally get sweeter in the cool days of fall) or if the variety is to blame (according to other bloggers, only a few carrot varieties have good flavour when grown in the spring/summer).

The bottom line is that when it comes to carrots, I really need to experiment – both in terms of timing and varieties grown.  I will be dropping Little Finger as it was the least favourite in both the years that I grew it.  Scarlet Nantes & Chantenay Red Core will be grown again but, this time, I won’t pull them until later in the season and they will hopefully be larger & sweeter.  Or I may grow a different quick spring crop in their spot and then sow them in early summer for a fall crop.

I will also grow the fast maturers that failed to give me a crop this year (Amsterdam Maxi & Sprint) and I’m thinking that I will add at least 2 or 3 more varieties to the list.  Perhaps I can dedicate part of the bed to long maturing varieties and then use another part of the bed to grow two rounds of fast maturing varieties.  Hmmm....lots to ponder over the coming weeks.


Radishes

Radishes are not a huge crop for us; more of a little something extra to gather from the garden.  As such, I don’t generally devote a particular spot to them, but try to squeeze them in among other crops.  I have since discovered that this may be the reason why I usually don’t get the best results.


Scarlet Globe Radishes
share the basket with Viroflay Spinach
 
I only grew two varieties this year – Scarlet Globe and White Icicle.   I decided to sow the seeds as a border around the collards/Chinese cabbage.  Bad idea.  Most of the Scarlet Globes formed rather small bulbs and many of the radishes – especially the Icicle radishes – went from leafing out to bolting with no bulb to be found.  I was only able to harvest 2 Icicle radishes, out of perhaps 20 seeds sown.

On the left - one of the (only just) harvestable icicle radishes
On the right - practically every other radish "root" looked like this



Prior Year Comparison

Last year, I sowed the same varieties as this year & I sowed them as a border around the lettuce.  I did get a few more icicle radishes than this year (although they were much smaller), but the overall results were equally unimpressive – in fact the Scarlet Globe radishes averaged half the size they did this year.



Overall Impressions & Plan for Next Year

This year wasn’t great but at least it was a bit better than last year, at least with regards to the size of the Scarlet Globe radishes.

Then, a couple of months ago, I read a post on Mark's Veg Plot that alerted me to the fact that planting radishes near plants that overshadow them could cause them to bolt without forming bulbs…it was an “aha!” moment.

I have no idea why it had never occurred to me that they didn’t produce well because they were shaded by other crops.  And I know that had I not read Mark’s post, I likely would have continued to try growing them around crops that they were not suited to be paired with.

I could try growing some radishes around slower growing or smaller crops, where they would still get a good bit of sun, but I have decided that next year, I will give them a small spot of their own, perhaps a couple of square feet.

I will grow Scarlet Globe and White Icicle again (more for comparison purposes than anything else) plus a couple of other varieties that I purchased this past summer but never made it into the ground – French Breakfast (inspired by Daphne’s gorgeous display of radishes) & Easter Egg Hybrid Mix.  Four varieties is more than enough for us, so I will not be purchasing any others.

Till next time…

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” ~~ Robert Brault

16 comments:

  1. I've found spring/summer carrots to be more difficult to get to size than the fall type. Also they tend to be bitter. I've had good luck with Mokums and I'm trying Nelson for the first time this year and it is supposed to be one of the best for that time. Both of them are early carrots. Not that spring carrots are ever early.

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    1. That is so interesting - with other crops it always seems to be the other way around. Mokum is on my list for next year - probably from your posts this past year. I didn't realize it was an early carrot (so to speak), so that's great. I guess it will have to be a bit of trial and error as to exactly how early it is in my garden.

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  2. Carrots are one of those crops for me that seem to always work out OK - I direct sow (same with radish) and thin here and there as so the season goes. But I know direct sowing doesn't seem to work as well for you as for me (as noted on previous posts). The one thing I know for sure is that I never have enough carrots!

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    1. You said it - everyone loves carrots! Hopefully as I gain experience I will have better luck with the whole direct seeding thing - I have a feeling it's probably more of an attention issue (or lack thereof) than anything else.

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  3. Great post! I am going to give seed mats a try this year for my carrots, lettuce and spinach. Thanks!

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    1. Thanks! Seed mats definitely make sowing those tiny seeds a LOT easier! And granny would often make them a month or more ahead of time so that they were ready to go when it was time to plant - it didn't seem to harm the seeds at all. I haven't tried that yet, but am thinking that I may give it a go this year.

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  4. This is a really informative post - thanks for sharing your experience! We've struggled with carrots too, suspecting that consistent moisture during germination and having clumpy soil might be the biggest issues. Your harvest tables are really great. Do you keep records like that for everything you plant?

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    1. Thanks so much! I do keep records on most everything I grow. For me, it's a great way of figuring out what works & what doesn't - I find that my memory is often less than accurate. Even a few months later I wouldn't be able to recall exactly when I sowed the peas, or when the onions were ready or how long the harvest on that first succession of bush beans lasted...I'm sure you know what I mean!

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  5. Hi Margaret,
    I think slugs are everywhere problem, sigh.. I wish you great harvest this year..
    Greeatings,
    Hari.

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    1. Thank you Hari - and you are probably right about the slugs...no garden is truly safe ;)

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  6. Hi Margaret, nice to hear from you! I've always grown Napoli carrots. They never fail to perform even during off years and the flavor/taste is very good. As far as radishes are concerned, they definitely seem to perform better for me during the fall than in the spring. I don't really care for them but my son eats them up like nobody's business.

    I'll be interesting to see how this year shapes up weather wise. 2014 wasn't so bad aside from a moderately dry summer. Let's keep our fingers crossed!

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    1. Thanks for the suggestions Thomas! have added Napoli to my list of varieties to try. We could actually have done with less rain in late summer, believe it or not - the slugs were at an all time high this year!

      And definitely keeping my fingers crossed for a very bountiful 2015 season for all of us!

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  7. I've always grown Mokums--it's the one variety I ALWAYS plant. I try a few new varieties every year and it always comes down to BEST TASTE: Mokums, BEST GERMINATION: Mokum.
    Seeing a pattern here? Hubby is addicted to them and sneaks in the garden all the time to steal them. I should set a trap.........................

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    1. Oh, that's hilarious!

      And now you have me REALLY excited to give Mokum a go this year...they are definitely at the top of my list!

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  8. I'm still learning how to grow carrots also. I get them to germinate ok, using the agribon to keep them from drying out, but there's always something that finds the seedlings to be tasty. I lost one round this fall to sowbugs, another round to birds, and finally had success with the third round. Thank goodness I garden in a very mild climate, but those first failures meant a rather small haul of carrots when I had to clear out the patch this week. I call those little carrots "baby" carrots, like they serve in chic restaurants...

    Radishes are something that I tried to devote more space to this past year. Like you I had always tried to slip them into spots with limited success. I'm much happier with the results and am finding more uses for them and enjoying eating them more than I used to.

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    1. There is never a shortage of surprises in the garden - some good and some not so good. I bet those baby carrots were so good!

      And I'm really hoping that this new strategy with growing radishes solves the no-bulb problem for me as it has for you. I don't generally buy radishes at the market but do enjoy the ones from the garden so it would be nice to get a modest harvest this year.

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