Winter Carrot – Final Report

Last August I planted two large beds of carrots for winter use.  Here in the Willamette Valley they can usually be left in the ground and will last until Spring, although exceptionally cold weather can freeze the top of the roots which cause them to rot.  Fortunately, I had row cover over them during the really cold weather early in the winter and it kept them from freezing, in fact the tops even stayed green.  A bed of summer carrots that was uncovered froze and rotted immediately on thawing.

I grew St. Valery from www.growitalian.com and Scarlet Keeper from Fedco.  The Scarlet Keeper is intended as a storage carrot and is supposed to have good flavor in storage.  Both of them did really well, producing large roots.  The St. Valery ended up looking like an imperator type carrot, many of them 8″ long and fairly thin, with good orange color and no core.  The Scarlet Keeper look more like a Danvers, wide at the top and tapering down in a triangular shape to the tip, very blocky.  The color was much lighter, but again no core to speak of and pretty good flavor.

Either of them would have worked fine, but when I picked both I always seemed to end up eating all the St. Valery first, they look better and I think they have a better flavor, but all of them end up being eaten as I eat a ton or carrots in the winter, both raw and cooked.

I may end up doing the same thing next winter, growing a couple of varieties as it’s always good to have some diversity in the garden, but I think I’ll try one I’ve had my eye on fora  while, Napoli from Johnny’s, I’ve heard good things about it.

One final recommendation for www.growitalian.com.  Their carrot seed is from Italy and is very high quality at a very reasonable bulk price, much cheaper than either Fedco or Johnny’s for an ounce or two.  Carrot seed is a tough one to grow high quality seed, be sure to buy your from a really good source, there’s a lot of poor quality carrot seed on the market.

Storage Onions

I went through my onions from last summer today to see how they were doing and pull out the ones going bad.  I grew Copra and Dakota Tears last year, and both of them made nice big onions and didn’t store too badly.  Here in the middle of March, I think about 60-70 percent have made it through the winter.  I don’t do anything fancy, they’re just stored on racks in my shop, in the dark generally but at outside temperature and humidity.  I did put them in a heated room for a couple of days early in the winter when it got down to almost zero or they would have frozen and spoiled like all the other storage veg.

The real winners were a bit unexpected.  I’d found a few Red Marble onions, a “red” / purple cipollini onion.  They get pretty large, up to 4″ or so and are generally more flat than round.  A lot of them make doubles when they get big, so they are a  little more work to prep, but I would say that 95 percent of them made it through the winter.  Out of a big box I only found one or two that had gone bad, really amazing.  I see they’re sold as F1 hybrids at some vendors and open pollinated at others, but the seeds are pretty cheap and they’re great onions.

The other winner were “Ed’s Red” shallots.  They make standard size shallots, a lot of them doubles, and are grown from seed.  They did well and I ended up with a ton of them and got at least  90 percent survival in storage and maybe a little better, I didn’t count them but I made big braids and each braid had one or maybe two that were starting to sprout.  One nice thing about them is that none of them spoiled, they only sprouted, so they didn’t affect the ones next to them the way onions do when they melt down.

I’ll be growing the same this  year as I was really pleased with how all of them did except that I won’t be bothering with Copra and will just be growing Dakota Tears as they were pretty much identical in size and storage quality and Dakota Tears is an open pollinated variety while Copra is a hybrid.

2014 Tomatoes

Last year I grew an assortment of heirloom tomatoes and a few hybrids in my polytunnel and it was a mixed success.  The heirlooms I got to market were early and good, people raved about them and I sold a lot.   The problem was that I composted at least 2-3 pounds of tomatoes for every tomato that made it to market.  Either they rotted on the vine, cracked and split or even split in the few hours between picking and market.  What I did learn was that while people say that they want a delicious heirloom tomato, what they really want is a tomato that looks great.  Week after week I had customers picked through the heirlooms to find the few tomatoes that looked perfect, even though I warned them that they didn’t taste as good as the others.

This year I’m primarily going with “greenhouse” tomatoes that are bred for multiple disease resistance which they need in the hot humid environment (not often we say that in the PNW…).  The seeds are expensive but I won’t need that many and if they do even slightly better they’ll be well worth the difference in price.

Here’s what I’ve settled on for this year.  From Johnny’s, Pozzano, Pink Wonder, Verona, Sunrise Bumble Bee and Olivade.  From Fedco I’m trying Jet Star which they say does well in hoophouses.  One real standout last year was Juliet, a “salad” or small roma tomato.  It would keep on the vine for a couple of weeks, heck it could fall on the ground and not rot for a week, but it still had pretty good taste and had enough solid matter to be good in salads or such while still juicy enough for good flavor.  Olivade is supposed to be a supposed to be a bigger version of Juliet so going with it this year, at least for a few plants.  Another winner was Tigerella, an heirloom red/yellow striped tomato, hence the name.  Another “salad” type tomato, mostly about an inch to two inches max, but great producer and very good flavor.  Much juicier than Juliet and better flavor but much more tender, although still one of the best heirlooms in the greenhouse.

I sold quite a few tomato starts last year so I picked up some hybrids that people were asking for, New Girl and Big Beef from Johnny’s, Yellow Pear and SuperSweet 100 from Fedco.  I’m also starting a lot of heirlooms from last year from my own seed.  These are what people were asking for last  year and I’m working on growing what people are looking for, always a problem for me in business.

I got most of them in a few days ago using heat pads to keep them warm and I’ve got almost 100 percent germination and they’re starting to put on a little size.  Last year I put transplants in the greenhouse on March 27 but I don’t think I will lose anything by being a week or two later as they didn’t start to ripen until well into June.

A few thoughts on squash

I havent’ had the  time  energy to do a full on report on winter squash after last year’s little experiment so I thought I’d start with a few summary notes, all from a purely personal perspective based on what I like to eat and how I store my squash.  I have a hive of bees about 150′ away from the squash patch and they were all over the squash, so pollination was not an issue.  I like to eat squash simply by roasting them, splitting them in half and putting a little butter on them.  During the winter I’ll eat some with most dinners as I really enjoy them and eat them like dessert.

I have a large shop, think barn and you’ll be pretty close.  I live in the Willamette Valley where most of the winter the temperature is in the 30’s and 40’s with 100 percent humidity, so think “large outside refrigerator”.  It sometimes gets cold, like it did in December when the temps got down around zero for the first time in 40 years, and I had to scramble to move everything into a small heated room I maintain in the shop, but most years everything sits happily outside even when the outdoor temp drops into the 20’s for a while.  I put the squash on shelves and the overflow of small squash in milk crates or such and so far it’s worked well enough.  My onions and potatoes live next to them.

Last year I put in about 15 or so winter squash varieties, about 5-10 vines of each except for the Delicatas which probably had 20-25 vines.  I tried a lot of varieties that were recommended for this area and some were read more

Winter Carrots – January 2014

Last August I planted two beds of carrots for winter, each a 4′ x 24′ raised bed with about 5 rows of carrots in each bed.  One bed was full of Scarlet Keeper from Fedco, supposed to be a great storage carrot, the other was St. Valery from Gourmetseeds.com/Growitalian.com, supposed to be a larger carrot that sounded interesting.  I got a good stand of carrots for a change and when it started to get cold I put some Agribon 19 over them to protect them from the worst of the weather.

The worst of the weather was what we had this year, with the coldest temps in 40 years.  It got down around zero F or -17C for several days (many winters it doesn’t get below 20F here).  I was worried about how the carrots would do in that kind of cold so I went out to harvest some a couple of days ago.  Much to my amazement when I pulled back the row cover the beds looked like this:

Carrot bed January 2014

Carrot Bed January 4, 2014, after cold weather

The carrot plants were strong and healthy, no signs of frost damage even with the horrible weather.  Row cover can do wonders for hardy vegetables.  I pulled some of the St. Valery and was impressed with how they were doing:

St. Valery Carrots  They were a nice size, good color and very uniform.  Almost every one was straight and a good useable / marketable carrot.  The tops aren’t too strong but strong enough to get the carrots out of soft ground if I was careful.  One nice thing was that they hadn’t pushed themselves out of the ground so the shoulders weren’t green at all.

 

 

 

Scarlet Keeper Carrots

Scarlet Keeper Carrots

Next up were the Scarlet Keeper carrots.  Much to my amazement it seems that they’ve been busy growing for the last couple of months, despite it being winter!  They were a LOT bigger than when I last saw them in early October and had turned into sizeable carrots.  Their tops are very strong, which probably helps them grow, and again they were quite uniform.  Their color is a little paler than the St. Valery and they actually seem kind of “transparent”, as if you can see into them a little ways.

 

 

Here’s what they look like cleaned up.

St. Valery Carrots

St. Valery Carrots

Scarlet Keeper Carrots

Scarlet Keeper Carrots

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cutting into them shows that the St. Valery have almost no core at all and even though you can see one in the picture of the Scarlet Keeper both varieties were very crisp and brittle with no noticeable core or toughness to them at all.

St. Valery Carrot

St. Valery Carrot

Scarlet Keeper Carrot

Scarlet Keeper Carrot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In cold weather I usually eat my carrots cooked, so I steamed a bunch of them for dinner.  All in all I preferred the St. Valery, they had a better color and a little better flavor, but there was absolutely nothing wrong with the Scarlet Keeper, they would have come out on top against many other competitors.  Either of them are top notch carrots, especially for the first week of January coming right out of the garden.

I’ve had a lot of disappointing carrot crops the last few years so it’s great to have a real winner, it looks like I’ll be enjoying these until the Spring crop is ready.  I think a LOT of difference was quality seed.  I switched to a couple orf different vendors for this seed and uniformity and vigor is a lot better than what I’ve been seeing.  I’m planning on picking up a couple of batches from Johnny’s this year as I suspect their quality is probably about the best.  I’m planning on growing a lot of carrots for market this year as I was amazed at how well they sold at the local market and the good price people were getting for them.

I need to get a final review of the squash trials up, but for now I’ll just say that next year I’ll be planting Delicata and Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato squash, don’t know if I’ll bother with much else.