Thursday, February 20, 2014

Making My Own Carrots

In 2013 I grew a batch of mixed bed (4ft x 6ft) of several carrot varieties, including a range of different colored forms. I had never grown carrots in my current garden, so I didn't know which varieties would work well and which would utterly fail. My main hope was that several types would prosper and I would get lots of mixed carrots to eat over the fall and winter seasons.

I harvested all the carrots during the second snowfall, digging and cleaning every single plant. There were plenty of largish carrots along with lots of small carrots. The brand of carrot culture that I applied (sow thinly and let the plants fight it out, without intervention) was particularly difficult for some varieties. A short, dwarf-rooted type ("Paris Market") almost disappeared in the resulting jungle. The red ("Atomic Red") variety from the Burpee Kaleidoscope mix tasted great, but performed poorly overall. The yellow ("Solar Yellow") and white ("Lunar White") ones from the same mix, on the other hand, did very well. The orange ("Bambino") and purple-skinned orange ("Cosmic Purple") ones from the same mix, came somewhere in between.

I ended up with several pounds of carrots and have been eating them all winter.

A secondary hope was that I would be able to save some of the largest carrots, those that agreed most with my local conditions and gardening style, for seed growing.   Over several years, this would let me develop a locally-adapted carrot variety of my very own.

Carrots are a biennial plant, producing flowers/seeds during their second year.   Since I wasn't confident in my carrots ability to survive in the ground all through the harsh Minnesota winter, I set some aside in the fridge for growing in the spring. For these, I trimmed the greens short, but left the growth point intact. The roots were then trimmed to fit into a quart-sized ziplock bag in the back of my fridge.

At the beginning of February, I checked in on the stored roots. Several had started to grow new shoots, while several others had rotted to mush. The rot took most of the orange ("Bambino") carrots, so it appears that color will be under-represented in the genetics of my developing population.

I decided that it was time to force the remaining roots, in fear of losing more to rot and so they could get an early start on the growing season. (Admittedly, the desire to see some green growth this deep in winter was a major factor in this decision.) I trimmed all the roots to about three inches long and placed them upright in a wide-bottom glass cylinder. I had enough roots such that they would cross-brace each other and remain upright in this container.

I happened to have a deep purple carrot ("Purple Haze", "Purple Dragon", or something) in the fridge, among leftovers from a farmers' market foray before my own carrots were ready… and I like purple, so I trimmed it like the others and added it to the forcing container.

If I am lucky, the roots will bloom early enough to let me grow the resulting seed this year, having been tricked into living their two year life-cycle in one year. If they don't bloom early, I will have had a nice windowsill plant for most of the winter and will have the seeds for next year.

In either scenario, the resulting next generation plants will contain a mix of F1s from the saved varieties. There are very few wild carrots ("Queen Anne's Lace") around where I live, so I shouldn't have any problems with weedy genetics getting mixed into my carrot population.   The next generation, a few years from now, should then show a riotous mix of traits as the various alleles segregate in the F2 progeny.

Part 2: Carrot flowers.
Part 3: Generation 2.