Here is another celebration for January — National Carrot Month!
Why celebrate carrots? Carrots are downright good for you. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the following nutrient content descriptor for carrots: "fat free, saturated fat free, low-sodium, cholesterol-free, a good source of fiber and high in vitamin A."
But carrots have so much more then the USDA descriptor. Carrots are a good source of vitamins, including the B vitamins (B1, B2, B6, thiamine, folic acid), as well as A, C, D, and E. Minerals include copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, sulfur, plus calcium in the form of calcium pectate, an extraordinary pectin fiber that has been found to have cholesterol-lowering properties.
While most vegetables are better for us raw, carrots are the exception to the rule. They are more nutritious cooked because cooking makes it easier for our bodies to assimilate the beta carotene. Add a touch of oil to help carry the fat-soluble vitamin A into the bloodstream. You don't have to cook them though. Crunchy raw carrots are a fine snack.
Most of the goodness in carrots is in the skin or just below the skin. Along with carotene, which is a strong antioxidant, carrots contain a number of other phenolic compounds that are antioxidants, and these are located in the skin of carrots as well as many other fruits and vegetables.
One problem with store-bought carrots is that growers spray with a toxic pesticide that settles into the leaves and skin. To remove the pesticide one must peel the carrots.
These two facts combined argue for consuming only organically grown carrots. Lucky for us here in the Old Pueblo, we can easily grow our own carrots, and now is the time to do it.
Time. Carrots mature in 45 to 55 days. Plant carrots in September and again in late January for harvest before it gets too hot in late April.
Varieties. Ideally select half-long or thumbelina types. These shorter varieties do better in our alkaline soils, and are more fun for kids of all ages to chomp on straight out of the ground. At this point in the season, look for quick-maturing varieties as well.
Soil. Use well drained, slightly acidic soil, rich in organic matter. Containers work well. Potting soil with some added sand is fine.
Light. Six or more hours of winter sun required.
Plant. Carrots do not transplant easily, so sow seeds directly where the plants are to grow. When seedlings are two inches high, thin them to stand around two inches apart.
Water. Keep the soil relatively moist during establishment. You can let carrots dry a little more between water once they get larger.
Fertilizer. Carrots do not require fertilizer if you amend the soil at the start. If you wish to improve their size, go ahead and add nitrogen-rich fertilizer after a month of growing.
Incidentally, it is said that carrot greens can be eaten (in moderation) and are high in vitamin K, which is lacking in the carrot itself. Related to parsley, the greens are similar in flavor.
If you want to know more about this vegetable (and folks that make carrots their life) visit the World Carrot Museum. It's a virtual museum online at: www. carrotmuseum.com.
Registrations now being accepted for spring gardening classes including "Design Your Own Landscape" "Spring Vegetables," and many more. Visit: oasisnet.org/Cities/TucsonAZ/Classes, and scroll down through the Wednesday classes, or call Oasis at 322-5627 for a catalog.