For the last week or two we’ve been waiting for our first fall Carrots to size up enough to begin harvest. Part of our job as farmers is normally to check on our maturing fields to determine when crops are ready. But our employees love to eat the carrots, so they check on them for us. At break time on Monday morning this week, everyone was already snacking on them.
Despite their popularity and ubiquity, carrots are one of the most difficult crops for us to farm. They grow very slowly, with weak plants that can’t compete against weeds. And they can’t tolerate much hot weather, especially when they are just a few weeks old. The tiny seedlings can be desiccated in just one hot afternoon.
In order to harvest carrots in the fall here at Terra Firma, we have to plant them during the hottest part of the summer. We start seeding them in mid-July, but only if the weather cooperates. There is simply no point in planting carrots if the weather forecast predicts an extended period of extremely hot temperatures.
Carrot seeds take ten days or more to sprout and emerge from the ground. They are relatively safe from the heat until that point — although severe heat (110 plus) will cook them even underground. The problem for the carrot farmer is that weather forecasts are rarely accurate out more than a week. So even if you do everything else right, it often just comes down to luck.
Getting the seeds to sprout is just the beginning. It takes almost a month from planting time until the carrots are big enough that we can stop worrying about them. During that time, they need to be kept as cool and moist as possible, which means almost-daily irrigations. It doesn’t take that much water, but it does take time and attention compared to other crops that we might water just once a week.
The frequent sprinklings also encourage weeds, most of which grow more quickly than the carrots. We need to shut off the water for at least a couple of days to get in to control the weeds, but when it’s too hot, we can’t do that. If it stays too hot for too long, we can lose the carrots to the weeds entirely
It has been quite a few years since we got lucky with July-planted carrots. This year was no exception, and no surprise given it was the hottest July on record. The carrots got zapped. Happily, we had good luck the rest of the summer thanks to a couple of “cool” spells and we will have an ample supply through the fall and into the winter.
Longtime subscribers know that the carrots we grow are not the same type most commonly sold in stores, which are bred to be harvested by machine. Called Imperator types, those ones have tough, fibrous cores that help keep them from breaking. Instead we grow so-called French carrots, Nantes types. These have no cores, which gives them a crisp, brittle texture that most people prefer when they eat raw carrots. They also cook more quickly.
We harvest our carrots one at a time, by hand. Generally we harvest them in bunches, which makes them easier to wash. But you should remove the tops when you get the carrots, as they will draw moisture out of the roots. They store better in your fridge without them.
We’ve been growing tasty carrots at Terra Firma for 25 years. They are a frustrating crop to grow, but also a very rewarding one and we understand how much our subscribers enjoy them.