Friday 18 June 2010

A triumph of carrots

Carrot triumph

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.

Carrot harvest

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.

Menage à quatre

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.

Carrot harvest
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 carrot
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.


ConsciousGardener said...

Beautiful! I love the twisted shot. Really enjoy your blog!

Scylla said...

I think the Purple Dragons will be going on my list for sure.

I wanted a nice, colorful, carrot for salads and soups. Something with a crispy, but earthy, flavor. These sound like they fit the bill!

Kath said...

With my soil I have to work harder than I like to produce nice carrots. However, Himself has taken on the challenge to grow some at the allotment - softer, siltier soil and much better looking for a carrot crop. No room this year - I've filled it with beans and peas!
I must look for some of these alternative colours. I like to be different!

Thanks for all your help and encouragement - here's to the next 100,000 visitors!

Rhizowen said...

I keep thinking that, as growing carrots from seeds can be so tricky, a perennial carrot would be a good idea - a bit like an arracacha. I often wonder whether I was a carrot root fly in a previous existence as I have so much trouble getting a decent crop.

It's a damn shame, but those big white fodder carrots are a lot easier to grow than all these colourful ones. Life can be so damned unfair.

Cabbage Tree Farm said...

We grew some purple, orange, red and white varieties a while ago. I ended up freezing some whole (they were quite small). This has worked very well I can just take some out and add to casseroles etc.
Enjoy them!

Mal's Allotment said...

Carrots (just the commonal garden orange ones) is a sore point with me this year. I gave up on them years ago because of the root fly, but bought in some thrip netting this year, only to find they are damn particular about conditions and won't germinate unless the conditions are right. So I'm glad to see that there is a way of producing a crop before August. Congrats.

Glad to see you've still got some bricks over from your herb bed Rebsie. I'm cleaning up number 200 from my collection of about 300. Did you do foundations?

meemsnyc said...

The carrots look great!

orflo said...

I completely agree with you: jaune obtuse du doubts is great, probably the best carrot I've grown, and especially when they're picked relatively young. Purple dragon seems to be a very unstable carrot, I've had two different-coloured varieties coming from two different sources, and within these varieties the inside colour was sometimes off-type as well. But that's what it's all about, some variability and not the uniform straight carrots you can see and buy everywhere.
I'm growing a 'samurai' this year as well, but it seems to be an open-pollinated one. Another nice one is 'blanche à collet vert', these do grow bigger than 'jaune...'. My absolute favourite is the old 'skirret', which isn't a carrot but can be used as one and is easier to cultivate.

lieven said...

Check out Ken's wonderful experimental carrot crosses: He's good!

Rebsie Fairholm said...

Thank you for lovely comments everyone. Unless I'm mistaken, Jaune Obtuse du Doubs started life as a fodder carrot, so maybe I should just stick with trying to grow and eat cattle food.

Mal - yes I did do foundations, but they were pretty rubbish. I didn't have nearly enough concrete, so they aren't very deep. I'm hoping that for a small wall like this it won't matter too much. I still have quite a few bricks left over, but they are mostly either broken ones or the ones I couldn't chip all the old mortar off. I'll find a use for them.

Frank - indeed, I like some diversity! It may be that Red Samurai is not really an F1 hybrid. Some varieties seem to be sold as hybrids when they aren't really. Funnily enough my Samurai were extremely variable while the Dragons were all quite uniform.

Scyrene said...

I have never done well with carrots either - in containers, in the ground, in soil, in compost... Last year I got a few small specimens. I've tried 'Jaune obtuse du Doubs' and it did nothing, sadly.

I got some purple carrots from a farmers' market recently, and they were a revelation - the surface was almost dark brown, but peeled, they were violet! The core was orange, but the layer of purple was quite thick - a few millimetres. I wish I knew what variety they were!