People often think that growing veggies in the Rogue Valley should be simple. After all, we have plenty of summer heat. The truth is, however, that vegetable gardening here can be a challenge, and growing good carrots falls into that challenging category.
In Oregon, carrots are grown most successfully in the Columbia and Snake River valleys, and along the coast. This is a hint as to the first challenge — carrots like cooler temperatures. So, in the Rogue Valley, they do best if grown in the spring or fall.
The next challenge is our soil. Carrots hate clay soil, and they will grow crooked to prove it to you. They do best in sandy soil, or at least in light soil that does not have any rocks or soil clumps and clods. Because carrots must penetrate deeply into the soil, they will fork if they meet such obstacles. They do best in a deep, raised bed rich in humus, without clods of clay. Do not fertilize the seedbed, especially with manure, as too much fertilizer will cause hairy and/or misshapen carrots.
Heavy, crusted or overheated soil can prevent the seeds from even sprouting. But there are some ways around that obstacle. Carrots have a very hard seed coat, so it helps to soak the seed overnight. Then, drain the water off, and spread them on a paper towel to allow the surface to dry.
To plant the seeds, prepare a smooth seed bed. Then, using your index and middle fingers, make dents in the soil a half-inch deep and two inches apart in both directions. This way, you are using the band method of planting instead of rows. This is an advantage because you will not need to thin the carrots, and they will shade out virtually all the weeds.
Drop one or two seeds into each dent and cover with sand or sifted potting soil. If both seeds come up, clip one off with sharp scissors, leaving the carrots about two inches apart. This prevents those annoying carrots that have twisted around each other.
Use a mister attachment on your hose to thoroughly dampen the seedbed. Then cover it with burlap or several layers of dampened newspaper. The seedbed must never dry out, so water it as often as necessary to keep the newspaper or burlap moist. Once the seeds have sprouted, remove the cover but keep the seedbed moist all during the growing season.
Some suggested varieties for spring include YaYa, Mokum, Parano and Nelson. For the fall crop, planted in August, my favorite is Bolero, as it stores well for the winter, right in the ground.
Carrots are biennials, which means that if you leave them in the ground too long at the end of winter, they will get "hairy" as they put out new roots in preparation for putting up a seed stalk during their second year. At that point, eating quality deteriorates considerably.
Coming up: On Tuesday, May 15, Kelley Leonard of the North American Rock Garden Society will teach a class on choosing and growing rock garden plants. The class is from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road, Central Point. The cost is $5. For details, call 541-776-7371.
Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at email@example.com.