Rainbow-colored carrots

It’s the third year I’ve had a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share in Roxbury Farm in Kinderhook (Columbia County), NY.   With a bountiful 2013 growing season in the upper Hudson Valley, and weekly deliveries of biodynamic produce from the farm to a pick-up site for about 60 shareholders in my Albany (NY) neighborhood, my backyard garden, maintained for 32 years, has shrunk in size.

Despite the shrinking of my vegetable garden, the human need to dig in the dirt and grow some food remained to be satisfied.   Michael Pollan’s must-read Food Rules includes a Rule 81 that deserves special mention here:   “Plant a Vegetable Garden if You Have the Space, a Window Box if You Don’t.”  Pollan’s explanation for this rule is worth pondering:

“What does growing some of your own food have to do with repairing your relationship to food and eating? Everything.  To take part in the intricate and endlessly interesting processes of providing for your sustenance is the surest way to escape the culture of fast food and the values implicit in it: that food should be fast, cheap and easy; that food is a product of industry, not nature; that food is fuel rather than a form of communion with other people, and also with other species- with nature.  On a more practical level, you will eat what your garden produces, which will be the freshest, most nutritious produce obtainable . . . .”

The food I receive weekly (for 22 weeks) from Roxbury Farm is also “the freshest, most nutritious produce obtainable,” and the  deliveries have been bountiful:  salad mix, head lettuce, green beans, sweet corn, bell peppers, Carmen sweet peppers, cucumber, beets (including the very special red & white striped Chioggia beets), chard, tomatoes, cilantro, parsley, basil, carrots, onions, scallion, eggplant, summer squash, zucchini, peas, broccoli, kale, cabbage, radishes, broccoli rabe, tatsoi, arugula, turnips,kohlrabi, and fennel.

The question of what to plant in my backyard garden was seriously affected by this biodynamic bounty from Roxbury Farm.    I decided to grow a very special crop of rainbow-colored Hudson Valley carrots (along with San Marzano tomatoes, which are great for sauce) and garlic (planted last fall and harvested in mid-July).

I obtained the “Kaleidoscope Carrot” (Daucus carota) seeds from the Hudson Valley Seed Library, which the colorful seed package of 500 seeds described as “A crunchy, rainbow-hued mix of tasty carrots in red, white, purple, yellow, and orange.”   Despite the tiny size of carrot seeds, it still was a surprise that 500 seeds would be inside the small package.  The Hudson Valley Seed Library commissions original art for its seed packages, and this package of carrot seeds had beautiful artwork, outside & inside, by Martha Lewis.  Of special note, a traveling exhibition of original art commissioned by the Hudson Valley Seed Library, Art of the Heirloom, will be opening at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy, New York in January 2014, and later at the Horticultural Society of New York in February 2014 and finally at the Philadelphia Flower Show in March 2014.

Handy information inside the package suggested “direct sow from mid-April until early August in friable, fertile, deeply worked soil.”  But instead of direct sowing of the seeds, I decided to start them in very small peat pots placed near a sunny bedroom window.  Thinning tiny carrot seedlings has always been a gardening task I did not enjoy, and the information inside the seed package noted knowingly that carrots “are tricky to cultivate when young.”  I thought it would be easier to thin out the sprouted seeds in the small peat pots, with the added benefit of watching the progress of seeds sprouting as the morning’s light came up through the sunny window in early spring.   The information inside the seed package gave added confidence to growing these seeds by noting that even if strangely shapen or undersized, the flavor of these heirloom carrots was superior to store bought.

I planted 4 or 5 seeds in each small peat pot.  If the peat pots do not have drainage holes, make sure to poke some holes into their bottoms so when they are later transplanted into the garden, they will decay more readily and the roots will grow more easily into carrots.   After the seeds sprouted, I thinned out the spouts leaving the hardiest seedling in each peat pot to continue growing.  By mid May, they were ready to be planted in the small 12 foot square, raised bed in my backyard garden.  They prospered in the rich, organic and crumbly soil in the sunny, raised bed.  Although the seed package specified “75 days” to harvest, the carrots grew in the raised bed for approximately another 90 days before harvesting.

Digging up the colorful carrots in late August, with the help of Parker, the young three-year-old grandson of nearby neighbors, was an inspiring experience and an antidote to any nature deficit resulting from the rush of urban life.  To dig in the ground and discover these colorful roots demonstrated to the young (and the old) the magic of nature.

The small raised bed of 12 square feet, planted up with approximately 100 seedlings in small peat pots, produced approximately 6 pounds of colorful, flavorful carrots, which ranged from the turnip-like earthiness of the white carrots to the special sweet crunchiness of the purple and red ones.  Sliced and served on a plate, they were an eyeful, and made for an impressive dish.  As of this writing, I still have some in the refrigerator, but doubt if they will last much longer.  I have in mind for lunch, some sliced rainbow-colored Hudson Valley heirloom carrots and a chunk of Painted Goat chevre!  A larger bed of carrots is in the offing for the 2014 growing season.

(Frank Barrie 9/18/13)


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