Friday, October 23, 2015

Winter Carrot Crop

Here in zone 5b, we just finished planting our "over winter" garden.  I know a lot of people who grow veggies all year long in their heated greenhouse, or window sills, but we have a slightly different method for some of the more cold tolerant varieties. 
It is the end of October here in central Illinois and we cannot WAIT for January/February.  Why? because that is when we will be pushing the snow aside so that we can begin digging up the most delicious carrots EVER.

So we start by tilling the ground up into a nice soft, fine, texture.  Then we hill it up in a row about 6 inches deep (Deeper if you are planting larger carrots, but we are doing fingerlings right now.) Pound a couple of T-posts, or whatever you have on hand, at each end of the row. If the row is more than 10-15 feet long, you may want to add a support in between as well.

Make some trenches for planting seeds and plant as you would in spring. By utilizing raised beds, Our Little Backyard Farm has chosen a style of gardening that is somewhat in between traditional row farming and square foot gardening. Never-the-less, it should not matter much how you space your seeds providing you remember to thin to your liking before extreme cold sets in.

Cover the seeds and run a tight rope or wire between the posts above the bed.  Make SURE this is tight. It is going to be whats prevents the snow from collapsing on the greens.

Water the bed thoroughly, making sure to get every square inch of visible dirt. Shoot for about 3/4 of an inch of water on the bed.

After watering the bed, drape a sheet of poly (as thick as you can get from a local hardware store) over the rope and begin weighting down the edges to create a poly tunnel.  Don't forget to overlap the ends across each other to prevent drafts from getting in. 

Prior to the extreme days of winter, just after planting the carrots, keep this in mind.....The average temperature under the poly will be 15-20 degrees warmer than outside temp, on a cold day.  So if Any late fall days rise back into the high 70's or 80's,  It might be wise to open a side of the poly to allow heat to escape. This might also give you a chance to check the moisture.  
This crop of carrots, if left covered, should only require the initial watering, and maybe 1 or two more waterings after about a month, month and a half.  The poly tunnel helps to prevent the moisture from escaping, allowing it to be "forgotten" for awhile.

In January, when you feel like having the sweetest, most succulent carrots (This is because the cold temperatures force most of the sugars to be stored in the root itself instead of the greens), Just brush the snow aside, lift the weights and poly off of the row and harvest like you would every other carrot.   You will probably notice that the greens are pretty small as well. Again, this is due to the carrot putting all it's energy into the root instead of the greens.

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