Eliot Coleman's enthusiasm for growing carrots in cold climates planted the seed.
During his visit here last month, the extended-season guru raved about how great carrots grown in cool weather taste -- the colder it gets, the more sugar they produce, he said. Coleman claimed the ones he grows in Maine are so sweet children demand them.
But one of the unschooled rumors about gardening in Anchorage is that carrots don't do so well in home gardens here. They take a long time and grow crooked or something.
So it took assurances from Margaret at Alaska Mill and Feed and Anna at Sutton's Greenhouse to sell the idea that a weekend gardener can grow great carrots -- grow them all summer and deep into the fall, with a little special attention.
• Don't start carrots indoors. Plant the seeds outside when the soil warms up.
• To get warm soil earlier, prepare a raised bed or plant them in mounded rows. They can take up to three weeks to germinate but warmer soil can shorten this some.
• Varieties of the Nantes carrot are popular recommendations from experienced local gardeners. The Cooperative Extension Service recommends Nantes Coreless and Nantes Scarlet; Coleman also recommends the Scarlet.
• If you're concerned about your carrots having to push down too far, try Nantes Half Long. For a variety promising "super tasty, nutritious, sweet and tender" (we'll see), Territorial Seed Company offers Sugarsnax 54.
• Plant them in full sun. Don't plant them all at once so you can harvest over time. Follow the directions on the package. You have presumably figured out what your soil needs by way of added nutrients.
Carrots like a fertilizer with a large middle number or some bone meal, according to Margaret.
Carrot seeds are a hair larger than dust, a real pain to handle. Just try dropping one seed at a time in a straight row. Yes, it can be done, but it's annoying.
An alternative is to use seed tape. Sutton's has Nantes Coreless tape. Mill and Feed has Nantes Half Long tape.
However, be warned, not everyone is happy with how the tape works. Be safe, plant some seeds and some tape.
Carrots grow down and they don't like obstructions as they push underground. They'll twist around anything in their way, split or stop growing.
That means you have to make sure the soil is easy for them to grow through: 8-12 inches of well-worked, clumpless, good draining soil. A raised bed or mounded rows takes care of this with minimum fuss.
In "The Alaska Gardener's Handbook," Lenore Hedla suggests a fall planting after you've harvested your summer crop. Break up the "crust of frosty soil" and rake in broadcast seed.
"Cover it with clear polyethylene and a six-inch layer of leaves. Remove the mulch in the spring and, if all goes well, you may have a two-to-three-week jump on the season," she said.
If, like many home gardeners, you are attracted to the idea of growing your own salad, carrots should be on your list, right after lettuce and spinach.
Save the date
Saturday, May 26: Alaska Botanical Garden plant sale. Members get in early.
Karen Johnson, a Valley gardener, wrote in to share some additional information about growing carrots:
I love Alaskan carrots and grow a huge crop each year in my raised beds. I read your recent "Anchorage Gardening" article in the ADN (Saturday, April 28) and learned a few things I can use for my summer gardening experience. You did not mention pelleted carrot seeds so I am assuming you are not aware of them. They are the most wonderful invention. They are coated seeds and about the size of a mustard seed. Because they are easy to handle you can plant and space them so that thinning is a chore of the past, a chore I do not miss at all. These pelleted carrot seeds are available in several varieties from Johnny's Seeds on line. I also found them at Far Northern Garden Supply in Wasilla, but I bought all the packets (Early Nelson/pellet seeds; $2.09 pkg) they had. If you are a gardener yourself you will want to try these seeds. I can send you 12. About four years ago we had a family carrot taste-off. I ordered one package of each variety of carrots offered (there are eight or nine choices) by Johnny's and in September we had a blind test. The Early Nelson variety won by a HUGE margin. Sincerely, Karen S. Johnson