How To Grow Big, Healthy Carrots (and Other Homegrown Hints)
The homegrown carrot is a fickle vegetable. At first, beginner gardeners are obsessed with the idea of pulling their own fat, orange roots from the patch in a few weeks. Then, people quickly realise the seeds need a little extra TLC to germinate. Weeks pass by and some green fronds pop up, evolving into lush rows of what looks like a huge underground bounty. They're pulled up around eight weeks in - because surely there's a fat carrot attached to all that green - only to find stubby, twisted or tiny hairy vegetables that barely make a meal.
OK, so I'm generalising, but I've heard this story many times before - have you been here? Are you here right now? I want to share with you five key tips for growing your own veggies (and not just the humble carrot) in this post that might just save you a few fails (aka lessons) in your garden!
Growing Enviable Carrots
Carrots are a starch-filled modified root that come in many colours - red, yellow, orange and purple. To grow fat and straight, they like a fluffy, deep soil, so if you're starting out with a few centimetres of topsoil and compacted clay underneath, it's not the time for carrots just yet. By adding compost, creating no-dig beds and aerating soil deeply (at least 30cm) with a fork you can give your seeds a bigger chance of growing full size. Additionally, as mentioned below, carrots don't do well with too much nitrogen around - it enhances top growth and leads to misshapen or forked veg, so steer clear of too much chook poo or veggie fertilise.
The Invisible Secret of Beans
Beans are legumes, which by definition means they are plants that 'fix' nitrogen into the soil. This means they form a relationship with a special strain of bacterium at their root, where they're able to draw down nitrogen from the atmosphere (which other plants can't do) where it can be used. This is handy to know because nitrogen is an essential nutrient for leafy plant growth. All plants require it, but some less than others, so when you're planning what to plant directly after pulling your beans this is important. Plants like leafy greens and corn will benefit from this free fertiliser, while tomatoes and carrots/root vegetables will be encouraged to grow lots of leaves but not much fruit!
Crank up your Corn Harvest
Corn can be a longer wait for harvest than other crops, but is really worth it if you get some sweet, juicy cobs you can eat straight from the stalk! One rule I learned the hard way is to prune off the side shoots when they're young - about a foot tall. These side shoots will grow less vigorously, and not produce full ears, so will take energy and water from your main stalk and reduce yield. If you haven't grown corn before, note that it is wind pollinated, which means you need to plant a group close together (follow seed packet instructions) rather than a single row or very small plot. Look for brown, dry silks at harvest time, but don't wait too long or your cobs will be starchy.
In Tomatoes We Trust
In a summer garden that's neglected or forgotten, typically one thing survives - tomatoes. Often it's a rogue bushy cherry tomato that found it's way from the compost or worm farm into your bed that you didn't even plant - come February it's covered in red, juicy baubles! But there's more to tomatoes than the Tommy Toe, and I encourage you to get curious.
There are generally three types of tomatoes - cherry, slicing, and saucing - each comprising of hundreds of varieties! Little flavour bombs I adore include 'Yellow Pear', 'Tigerella', and 'Black Cherry' ('Black Russian' in a cherry - never tasted a sweeter fruit!) Slicing tomatoes are bigger but firm, containing less juice (because no one likes soggy sandwiches!) Delicious choices include 'Brandywine', (also good for sauce), Black Russian, and 'Green Zebra'. Saucing tomatoes tend to be more juicy, with good flavour but less desirable texture for fresh eating. Classic varieties for saucing include 'Roma', 'KY1' and 'Mortgage Lifter'.
Why I am telling you this in August? Because it's time to sow your seeds if that's what you want to do (indoors or in the greenhouse). They'll need a few weeks to grow and strengthen before late spring planting. And of course before you plant, add some fresh compost, a little blood and bone or rotted manure, and don't overdo the nitrogen (see 'The Invisible Secret of Beans above').
Success in Succession
For many crops, ripening or harvest happens within a small window and we end up with a 'glut' of produce with which we don't quite know what to do! For veg that doesn't store long, this can lead to learning new recipes quick smart, but can also lead to food waste, so we need to be clever where we can. Succession planting is where we plant out a crop in successions - or stages - over a season so that we have a staggered harvest. For example, you might plant broccoli seedlings every two weeks in August and September, so that you can harvest over November and December. This requires a little more planning, as you need to leave space for the future seedlings/seeds, but can be really worthwhile for some crops! Try this also with head-forming lettuce varieties, cauliflower, carrots, beetroot, coriander, peas and kohlrabi.
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