Unlike some vegetables, carrots don’t usually give me much trouble in my garden. I always sprinkle a few seeds randomly around my garden, mainly because I love to see my kids’ faces when we dig them up. As with potatoes, carrot harvesting is like a treasure hunt! Most are of a uniform size and shape but occasionally we get a giant or oddly shaped specimen that delights my children (and me). Home carrot gardening is pretty simple; you just make sure you have deep sandy soil, weed and feed occasionally, and chances are your crop will come in just fine.
Organic carrot forecasting at work is also relatively simple year after year as they are a staple for a natural foods store, and the supply and sales are generally very steady and consistent. Our business in carrots is so consistent that they are often used as an anchor for trucks. We will take amounts we are ordering up or down to make sure we are keeping trucks full. Carrots are so reliable that when we have a winter like this one — where ground temperatures are low and conditions are wet — the trouble with carrot production comes as something of a shock to everyone.
Growing and harvesting root vegetables like carrots requires some pretty exacting soil conditions. Ground that is too cold or wet will slow growth and increase the likelihood of disease. Harvesting in wet or overly cold conditions can also be a muddy experience – increasing cleaning costs and mechanical damage, which lowers premium yields. Fortunately, there are many uses for carrots that don’t pass muster as full sized loose or bunched with tops — like turning them into juice or whole peeled “baby sized” carrots. Even so, persistent cold and wet weather also reduces total yield in the areas of the U.S. that are warm (and dry) enough to grow carrots in the winter.
It is something of a mystery where carrots originated, but most experts agree they have been a cultivated plant for a very long time. Grown as both a food and medicinal plant, carrots are a part of the human diet virtually everywhere and come in a dizzying variety of shapes, colors and sizes. The ability to store carrots for an extended period of time has also made them a favorite crop in areas with short growing seasons.
While California is the largest producer of organically grown carrots for fresh consumption in the U.S., smaller seasonal producers are virtually everywhere. Carrots are a great cash crop for small farms because even though growing conditions need to be exacting, harvest dates do not. This means a grower can hold excess product in the ground and match up supply with demand.
In my kitchen, carrots are almost always in the fridge — either as snacks for the kids or as an ingredient in soup, stews or stock. My current favorite place for carrots is in a simple lentil recipe:
1 finely chopped white or yellow onion (medium)
½ cup finely chopped carrots
1 bay leaf
24 oz chicken or vegetable broth
1 pound green lentils
1 14-oz can chopped or stewed tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large sauce pan or stock pot, heat a bit of olive oil and add the chopped onions. Sauté until soft and translucent. Add the carrots, bay leaf, chicken broth and lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the lentils are soft (about 40 minutes for green). Add tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes longer. Season to taste and serve over rice.
I think carrots are like someone you can always depend on to pick you up at the airport or feed your cat while you are away. You can always count on them as a snack or to add something to a meal. A consistent friend that is really no bother and is always there when you need them.