Carrots are not so easy to grow. At least, this has been my impression. Other people seem to disagree, and I look with incredulity upon their huge bunches of perfect, slender, orange roots.
I’ve done a lot of reading about carrots lately, preparing to plant this year’s seed, my optimistic heart running against the grain of experience once again.
“Parmex” is my seed of choice this year, because I have a feeling that F. and I would need to amend the soil for several years in succession to get those classical, long, straight carrots. The soil we started with here, although rich where it was practically undisturbed beneath the forest canopy, is mostly clay, and carrots tend to come out of heavy clay looking like unfriendly tumors or, worse, some kind of mutant species intent upon world domination. (I believe the technical term is “misshapen.”)
You can still eat these carrots. But they are a pain to peel or grate, and frankly the shapes are unappealing to the appetite.
The baby ball-type carrots, such as Parmex, apparently do well in any soil — or at least, that is what the seed sellers say, and I’m hoping it’s no lie. Still, I’m crossing my fingers.
So when I called up my grandfather yesterday, I was planning to sneak some carrot questions into our conversation. His farm had heavy clay soil as a base, although it had been well amended over the years by the output from eight chicken houses, several pigs, a couple of cows, the ashes from a wood stove, etc. The farm also had a huge, dedicated carrot patch — although I might have a distorted memory of its actual size due to my childhood propensity to daydreams, wandering, and distraction which, when combined, could make the chore of being sent to the carrot patch for dinner supplies last a long time.
Still, I remember it being very productive. Unfortunately, however, the gardening gene hadn’t yet blinked on back then, so I didn’t record many of the how-to details, being more interested in watching that hawk land in the trees beyond the field, or the tiny wildflower that had sprouted in the furrow. (Hmm… in some ways, not much has changed.)
Here is how our talk went.
ME: Granddaddy, I remember y’all used to have a big ol’ carrot patch.
GRANDDADDY: Yeah. Yeah, we did.
ME: And it used to make lots and lots of carrots.
GRANDDADDY: Not so many. You took some time pickin’ ‘em, though. (Slight chuckle.)
ME: (slightly grumpy now) Do you have any advice to give me on how to grow carrots? It’s only, I can’t get mine to grow right.
(Long silence. So long I wonder if the line has gone dead.)
GRANDDADDY: Well, you get you some carrot seed.
GRANDDADDY: (very slowly, as if disarming a bomb) And then… you put them in the ground.
When I hung up the phone, I started giggling. Granddaddy belongs to the figure-it-out-by-doing school of gardening. Sometimes I suspect he wonders about my intelligence; mostly he thinks I’ve read too much, thus rendering needlessly complicated what is actually basic and simple. For him growing vegetables is just natural: that’s what the earth does, if you put the seeds in the ground.
When I was in my mid-20s, I figured out that this is 90% of the secret to what is commonly called a green thumb: expect miracles. Expect the stuff to grow and do well. Expect tasty results. A lot of this expectation comes from experience, from years of decent results in spite of silly mistakes, from patience when things don’t happen on schedule, from acceptance when it’s not quite right, from that inevitable failure — and from trying again and getting it right. Over time, one gets the feeling that plants do their thing beautifully without needing so very much from us, on the whole.
Not to say that Granddaddy hasn’t had his share of disappointments, whether it be at the hand of Nature or of Man. But he continues to expect good from whatever he plants.
(Apologies to those of you who were expecting an actual how-to article. They’re not really my style. But here is a link to a pretty good one from our nearby university, with lots of detail, just in case that’s what you were needing when you came by. If you live in a different area of the world, I suggest you check with your local university or extension service for growing instructions appropriate to the conditions of your bioregion.)