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Groundwork: What's up, Doc?


The mild, misty fall has turned the veggie plots at Green Spring Gardens into a cornucopia. (Adrian Higgins/The Washington Post)

My view is that the colonists set Thanksgiving at the end of November so they would have the best carrots for the table. Fall grown carrots, touched by a little frost, are sublimely flavorful and sweet. By sowing seed in late August, you can time the harvest to take fresh carrots from Halloween until the ground freezes. I once grew carrots through the winter, unprotected, but in a sheltered garden in D.C., I avoid growing such fancy colored versions as Purple Rain (dark purple); White Satin (more sallow than white); Atomic Red (a murky orange-red) or Yellowstone (insipid beige). Orange is good.


Carrots under cover at Green Spring. (Adrian Higgins/The Washington Post)
Recipe Included

I also avoid the little globular ones such as Thumbelina or Parmex, whose fans say they will produce in shallow topsoils. You shouldn't be growing carrots (or much else) in shallow soil, carrots need a good loamy tilth (quoth the old curmudgeon). Also, why go to the trouble of growing carrots if your yield will be a fraction of what it otherwise would be?

I find the sweetest to be Nantes types, long, crunchy and so tasty. Napoli is a favored Nantes type, as is Mokum and Nelson. The carrots growing at Green Spring Gardens have been sown in a hoop that will keep them happy and harvestable in freeze protected soil through to March.

Carrot seed can be slow or reluctant to germinate, especially in the colder soils of spring. Sometimes the rain forms a crust over the drill and prevents germination. I avoid that by backfilling the little furrow with potting soil. Once you have sown the seed, it is important not to let the soil dry out. A little misting as needed will crank them into life. The second trick with carrots is thinning. You have to give each root its space for light, moisture and nutrients. Thin them to two to three inches once the seedlings are tuggable.

It appears the garden at Green Spring has so far been spared a frost, and there are lot of greens that look as fresh as a daisy. With the exception of the Brussels sprouts, which haven't, everything is in full flight. The mustard greens are a lovely burgundy color, the maroon and chartreuse varieties of lettuce are superb, and the bok choy should be renamed bok joy, it's looking so robust and happy. We are lucky to live in a climate that permits such a long growing season.

Even the pot marigold or calendula is thriving still. The flowers are used as a culinary dye and for flavoring. The plant has been used medicinally for centuries for its antiseptic qualities.


Calendula or pot marigold is not a true marigold, but a traditional guest in the veggie garden, where it lends color and flavor to many dishes. (Adrian Higgins/The Washington Post)

At home in Alexandria, I harvested half my carrots for Thanksgiving and will take the rest for Christmas.

Carrots can also be grown in the spring, once the soil has warmed a little. If you have not tasted home-grown carrots, you haven't lived, so make sure you order seed this winter and spend some days in late winter double digging a sunny bed for them.

-- Adrian Higgins

Spiced Carrots
4 servings

Carrots pulled from the ground now are small, sweet and tender. They don’t need to be embellished, but adding a few spices warms the carrots and perfumes the kitchen.

Serve with basmati rice.

From Cynthia A. Brown, assistant director at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 4-inch cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle
1 bunch carrots (trimmed), cut on the diagonal into elongated coins (about 3 cups)
1/3 cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly squeezed juice and slivered peel from 1 large orange (1/2 cup juice and 1 tablespoon slivered orange peel)
1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted (see NOTE)

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cinnamon stick and the crushed cumin and coriander seeds; stir to combine and cook for 10 seconds. Add the carrots and cook for about 4 minutes, until the flat faces of the coins begin to brown.

Reduce the heat to medium, then add the raisins, honey, salt, orange peel and juice. Stir to incorporate and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until the carrots are crisp-tender, the raisins have plumped and the spiced sauce is bubbling.

Discard the cinnamon stick. Add the toasted almonds, toss to incorporate and serve hot.

NOTE: Toast the almonds in a dry skillet over medium heat; it should take about 4 minutes for the nuts to pick up a light brown color.

Per serving: 238 calories, 5 g protein, 22 g carbohydrates, 16 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 221 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 12 g sugar

By Adrian Higgins  |  November 30, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Groundwork , Recipes  | Tags: Adrian Higgins, Groundwork  
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