There is, you'll agree, a certain 'je ne sais quoi' oh, so very special about a firm, young carrot.
So said Uncle Monty in Withnail and I, my favourite film of all time (though in all honesty I don't watch that many) and it's certainly a triumph to me because I'm absolutely rubbish at growing carrots. I've grown the odd good one in the past, "one" being the operative word. To actually be able to hold up a bunch of homegrown carrots without them wilting in spindly shame is a first for me.
These photos are from the first batch I harvested. I dug up another load a week later and the colour was better on some of them in the second batch. They might have grown bigger if I'd left them a bit longer but I needed to vacate the greenhouse borders for my tomatoes.
So what did I do different this time? Well I started them off early and grew them in the greenhouse, which is probably what made the biggest difference to their fortunes. They were safe from the buffeting of spring weather and the oscula of marauding slugs. Also, instead of direct sowing the seeds in rows in the traditional way, I sowed tiny groups of seed in small modules and then transplanted them into the greenhouse border in baby clumps (no thinning needed).
I still need to perfect the method though, because some of them got into a bit of a cosy relationship under the ground, like these Purple Dragons.
Ménage à quatre
So let's have a little rundown of the varieties (see pic below).
Red Samurai - this one is an F1 hybrid. If you've read some of the cynical ranty stuff I've written about commercial F1 hybrids you might be a bit surprised that I'm growing one. But I always reckon if you're going to slag something off it's as well to be sure you know what you're talking about. So although I think commercial hybrids are largely a waste of money, I sometimes grow them to see how they compare with the OP varieties I sing the praises of ... and also to see whether they have potential for breeding work, because the F2 seed they produce can segregate into interesting new combinations. Anyway, Red Samurai is a red carrot - or at least a kind of brick red. The ones shown here are not very red, but I harvested some better coloured ones in the second batch. I also had some which didn't look right at all ... thin, spindly and whitish. The presence of the thin white dud in a carrot crop is usually a sign of an accidental cross-pollination with a wild type of carrot like Queen Anne's lace. Such crosses are not uncommon even in commercial seed because carrots are such tarty outbreeding slappers. But I did get enough decent red carrots to be able to evaluate it. It was sweet and tasty and pleasant. Did it have that special extra edge to justify the cost of an F1 hybrid? No. In a word. Nice, but nothing special and there are plenty of OPs which are better.
John's Purple - or John's Light Mauve, if my specimens are anything to go by. This is from the Heritage Seed Library and not commercially available. It was raised in the 1970s by a chap who spotted a purple carrot in a bag somebody gave him for his rabbits. The roots are neither large nor pretty, but they are certainly different from anything else I've seen. Eaten raw it has a strong, earthy, slightly soapy flavour and is very juicy with a really nice texture. The carrot is white inside but the mauve colour extends some way into the flesh. Worth giving this one another go, I think.
Cosmic Purple - hmmm ... I suspect I may have a packet of mislabelled seeds, because the carrots I dug up are neither purple nor particularly cosmic. Maybe that's a blessing, because I've heard nothing but negative things about the flavour and texture of Cosmic Purple. The thing I have here is a decent, nice looking orange carrot with a smooth skin, a sweet and juicy flavour (though rather mild in character) and lovely texture. God knows what it is though.
Purple Dragon - ahhh ... now this is purple. The ones I dug up in the second batch had an even stronger colour. Rich though the colour is, it's entirely on the surface. Slice it open and the carrot is a normal orange colour all the way through. Raw flavour is very sweet but with a hint of a bitter undertone, and the texture is firm and crunchy. It does however keep its colour pretty well when it's cooked, and loses the hint of bitterness. It's a nice variety and one I will grow again.
Left to right: Red Samurai F1, John's Purple, Cosmic Purple (supposedly), Purple Dragon.
Purple Dragon is certainly the pick of the bunch, and the one I'll continue to grow. It's not the best carrot I've ever tasted ... that particular accolade goes to a heritage yellow variety called Jaune Obtuse du Doubs. If I had time I might even try crossing them, but I shall need a couple of extra lifetimes to fulfil all my plant breeding ideas.
Purple Dragon, sliced.
And another nice little triumph. Yesterday the blog's hit counter clocked up the 100,000th visit. I managed to capture the moment in a screenshot. This has taken exactly four years ... I put the site meter on here in June 2006, a few months after I started the blog. It was depressing to have it there at first because I had bugger all readers - even the spammers couldn't be bothered. It has built up steadily since then. So I'd encourage anyone who's just starting out with a blog not to get despondent if it seems like nobody's reading it. It can take several months to a year before you really get noticed. Anyway, thank you to everyone who has supported and encouraged me and left comments over the last few years.