Most of my afternoon yesterday was squandered in devotion to carrots.
I love carrots, and my son loves them, too, but with much of the garden soil composed of a heavy clay loam, a good amount of preparation has to be devoted to growing this humble root vegetable.
You hardly ever see those long, slender supermarket varieties at farmers markets in this area. We just don’t have the soil for the foot-long types. A high raised bed filled with compost and sand might do it–but most market growers in this area aren’t growing that way.
The prep-work for growing the stump-rooted versions (Danvers Half-Long is standard in these parts) is more than enough for most: chopping all those clumps of clay and combining with copious well-composted organic matter, removing any rocks, digging and double-digging, and creating fine and lovely tilth is par for the carrot course.
Rocks will make them fork, too much nitrogen will make them hairy, and chemical fertilizer gives them a chemical flavor. You’d think it’d be simpler–but sometimes the simplest-looking things are the most work.
So, I spent almost my entire afternoon yesterday prepping one bed–just one–for main-crop carrots. And it’s a thing of beauty.
Composted manure was mixed in last fall, but I added more while breaking down the clay on the widened edges. Most of the bed was in good shape already–happiness is stepping the broadfork into a bed and having it sink effortlessly down to the crossbar–no putting my full weight onto it and jiggling back and forth to ease it down into the clay.
But I wanted a wider bed–wide enough for three rows of carrots. If I’m lucky, I can harvest hundreds of carrots from that one bed. And I want to be lucky.
The second carrot bed–the one for the early, smaller types, was prepped a few days before. That worked out well because the first piece of row cover I pulled from the shed was the perfect length for the second bed–so I seeded that one quickly, laid and fastened the cover, and watered all those tiny seeds in.
The first one–the beautiful bed I’d spent so much time on–didn’t get a row cover, but it did get several heavy wire cages over the top.
I don’t often have little critter problems with my carrots (insects or even rabbits–they go for the beets), but I do have big critter problems–deer love carrots and will sink their long legs right into my perfectly lofted beds and then paw out the roots. Or just eat the tops. Or both, if they can. Protection is key.
Germination is also an issue with carrots–they’re erratic and can take a long time to break through. The additional organic matter and row cover can keep the soil from crusting and retain the moisture longer–making it easier for the wee carrot tops to break through into the light.
I couldn’t spend my entire day on carrots, though. By the time both beds were prepped, seeded, and watered, the sun was sinking fast, but I thought I’d get one more task in for the day.
There’s really not much in life more satisfying than whacking the heads off your enemies thistles with a well-placed stroke of a mattock.
I think perhaps all those tea-baggers and violent fringe groupies could use to learn this principle–that thistle-whacking is a fairly perfect way to release all that pent-up energy without getting on anyone’s watch list.
I’d invite them out to our place, but who knows what they’d do when they found out about my politics.