Carrots: The Good and the Bad

Categories: Garden Fresh

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Photo by John Kiely
The unique challenge to carrot-growing in Houston is simply a question of depth. A productive local garden can be made with a mere four or five inches of raised-bed soil, but carrots grow to be much longer, or should I say, deeper than that. A few inches underneath the garden is Gulf Coast hard clay, and as my neighbor Tom noted, "You might as well plant them in concrete."

The first possible solution is to go the other direction, by building a length of mound, or planting two parallel two-by-six boards on their edges and filling up the space with garden soil. Another solution is to buy a variety of carrots that are stubby, like Nelson or Sweetness. A third way is to plant them in a large tub or planter.

Carrot seeds need light to germinate, so they can simply be scratched into the soil and watered lightly, or perhaps misted extensively until seedlings appear. Carrot seeds also require patience. Most Texas crops will sprout in a week or ten days, but carrots need two or three weeks before any pop-up action. After they do, each carrot only needs an inch or two of space to grow, so they can be thinned accordingly. After the sprouts start growing, carrots require a weekly fertilization.

The final challenge for carrots is soap. As in, "Why do carrots sometimes taste like soap?" The reason is carrots produce two major ingredients: sugar, which is why giant bags of carrots are sold in Whole Foods for carrot juice, and terpenoids, a volatile compound that gives carrots flavor, and in high doses, makes them bitter and soapy. Unfortunately, there are many vagaries of soil, temperature, weather, and storage that affect terpenoids, so it's hard to control for supermarket produce.

One name for avoiding soapy carrots is Nantes, a French creation that provides more sugar and less terpenoids. The Scarlet Nantes variety is tasty, sweet, and short, probably the best choice for a Houston garden, and ultimately a delectable carrot soup.



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3 comments
John K.
John K.

I find stuff grows very well in Houston, from late October through mid April, in well-made soil.  The cauliflower and lettuce transplants are thriving, and I'll seed the best broccoli in America tomorrow.  Summers, I'll agree, are getting increasingly dodgy.

Corey
Corey

Honestly too much trouble to grow in houston, climate is all over the place, soil is utter crap, I'll stick with radishes and swiss chard.

ostiones
ostiones

Soil is the third most important part in vegetable gardening.  Number one is abundant sunshine, as in don't plant a garden under a bunch of trees, two drainage, and three is easily fixed, soil.  It costs some change, but a mixture of garden soil and sand, plus copious amounts of compost, and you can have beautiful soil.  I grow corn, tomatoes, green beans, broccoli, potatoes, onions, lettuce, peas, plus others all in rich, dark soil.  It takes some work, but the satisfaction is worth it, just follow seasonal guidelines for different crops, like don't plant tomatoes an corn in June, but rather March.

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