Colorful Carrots for the Home Garden

Colorful Carrots for the Home Garden

Carrots are synonymous with a few things: Bugs Bunny, old wives’ tales about improving eyesight, and the color orange.  For centuries, orange colored carrot varieties have been the industry standard and still dominate store shelves.  These days though, choices for consumers are ever expanding and thankfully home garden carrot variety selection has participated in this phenomenon!  With a little searching, gardeners can now source and plant any color and/or type of carrot they desire.  For instance, this winter, I planted carrots of various types in various shades of orange, purple, and red. Through this experience, I also found that not all colored carrots look, cook, or perform the same.  The following is a quick primer on carrot types followed by my review of the four varieties ‘Bolero’, ‘Red Sun’, ‘Deep Purple’, and ‘Malbec’ after a season of growing.

Carrot varieties (left to right): ‘Bolero’, ‘Red Sun’, ‘Deep Purple’, ‘Malbec’.

There are three main types of carrots regardless of color:  Imperator, Nantes, and Chantenay.  Imperator types are the extra-long, durable, sweet tasting carrots most often found in stores and are suited best to deep, loose soils.  Nantes type carrots are medium length and cylindrically shaped, often with a blunt tip.  Sometimes called “storage” carrots, Nantes types are easy to grow and tend to store well for long periods of time after harvest and retain their flavor well.  Finally, Chantenay type carrots are excellent performers in shallower beds or soils as they are a bit shorter, possessing a conical shape with roots wider at the top and tapering to the tip, making a deep soil bed a bit less critical.  I primarily grow Imperator and Nantes types as I find they give you a little more bang for the buck if you have a deeper (>6”) raised bed.  Now, on to the variety reviews.

‘Bolero’ – I always have this carrot in my garden.  An extremely versatile Nantes type carrot that has been a consistently high yielder for me whether I grow it in pots or in a traditional raised bed.  Typical for a Nantes type, ‘Bolero’ stores very well in the refrigerator and will change your culinary life if you’ve only ever eaten carrots purchased from a store.  They are excellent either fresh or cooked, with a complex, sweet taste.  If I could only grow one carrot, it would be this one.

‘Malbec’ – Colored carrots have a poor reputation as far as flavor is concerned.  ‘Malbec’ is the first non-orange carrot that changed my mind.  This Imperator type is as flavorful as they come, deep red throughout, and is easy to grow.  For some reason, ‘Malbec’ has been hard to come by the last two years, but if you spot seeds in a catalogue, online, or on a store shelf, it is well worth a purchase!

‘Red Sun’ – Winter 2020 was my first experience with ‘Red Sun’, a brand-new Nantes type carrot from Bejo Seeds.  I only planted this variety because I initially could not source ‘Malbec’.   Having said that, I was very pleased with ‘Red Sun’.  The carrots were extremely vigorous, had excellent top and root growth and mostly held their own with ‘Malbec’ flavor-wise in the kitchen also.  I would purchase ‘Red Sun’ again!

‘Deep Purple’ – Wow, they weren’t kidding when they named this variety!  Most purple carrots are colored on the exterior but fade to a “normal” orange at their core.  Not ‘Deep Purple’!  This Imperator type is strikingly dark purple, almost black.  Even the tops have a purple hue to them!  Cooking them was also an interesting experience.  Most colored veggies, peppers, carrots, and others lose their hue when cooked.  Not this variety.  Not only did ‘Deep Purple’ retain its color after cooking, my hands and cutting board turned a shade of indigo when preparing and, once put in a pan to sautee with other veggies, the juice from ‘Deep Purple’ dyed all the other veggies a deep violet!  While I wouldn’t grow ‘Deep Purple’ as my main crop carrot, it definitely has a place in the garden as a tasty novelty.

Carrots are among the easiest to grow, most rewarding vegetables in the winter garden.  Next fall, plant a variety of carrots in your home garden and enjoy the many types, colors and flavors that this tasty veggie has to offer!  For more information on the above mentioned varieties, home carrot gardening in general, or any other horticultural topic, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension office.  Happy Gardening!

 

 

Liven Up Your Garden with Sweet-Tasting Tatsoi

Liven Up Your Garden with Sweet-Tasting Tatsoi

Tatsoi is a low-growing green with spoon-shaped, dark-green leaves. Photo by Molly Jameson.

Tatsoi is a low-growing green with spoon-shaped, dark-green leaves. Photo by Molly Jameson.

Sweet to the palate, easy to grow, and a delight to watch take shape, tatsoi is a great choice for your fall and winter veggie garden.

Tatsoi is in the cabbage family, species Brassica rapa, and is closely related to another Asian green, bok choy. It originates in Japan, where it has been grown for over 1,500 years.

Tatsoi is an annual with spoon-like dark-green leaves and cream-colored stems that grows low to the ground. It is easy to start from seed, can handle partial shade, and grows relatively fast. It can be eaten raw, like spinach, or it can be lightly cooked to add a pleasantly distinct flavor to stir-fries and soups. It has a surprisingly mild mustard-like taste. It is full of vitamin C, calcium, potassium, folate, and phytonutrients.

Tatsoi takes about 40 to 50 days to reach maturity. Photo by Molly Jameson.

Tatsoi takes about 40 to 50 days to reach maturity. Photo by Molly Jameson.

Although it does well in the spring in cooler climates, it does best in fall and winter in Florida and can handle temperatures down to 15°F. It can be directly seeded into the garden and germinates in about five to 15 days. You can seed tatsoi one to three inches apart, but it should be thinned to about eight to 10 inches to reach full size, which takes about 40 to 50 days. Add the baby tatsoi you thin to your dinner salad.

Once thinned, harvest whole mature plants or individual outer leaves. If you find you just can’t get enough, seed more tatsoi every two weeks until the spring, when longer days and warmer temperatures will cause tatsoi to bolt. Bolting is when a plant diverts its resources away from the edible leaves and into the flowering stem for seed production.

For a truly continuous supply, allow your tatsoi to bolt, and it will produce many tiny, thin seed pods. Wait for the plant to dry completely and harvest the seed pods. Carefully open the pods over a plate to be sure to catch all the small round seeds within. Then, simply store the seeds in a dry, cool location, such as your fridge, in an air-tight container. Stored correctly, the seeds will last four to five years.

If you have yet to give tatsoi a position in your garden, give it a try this winter!

Video: Getting Started with Cilantro

Video: Getting Started with Cilantro

Cilantro is an herb that grows well in the cooler months of North Florida gardening. Beth Bolles will share how to grow and use cilantro in the latest Garden to Table feature from UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.

Florida Swamps Offer Fall Color

Florida Swamps Offer Fall Color

The blackgum/tupelo tree begins changing leaf color in early fall. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

Florida isn’t necessarily known for its vibrant fall foliage, but if you know where to look this time of year, you can find some amazing scenery. In late fall, the river swamps can yield beautiful fall leaf color. The shades are unique to species, too, so if you like learning to identify trees this is one of the best times of the year for it. Many of our riparian (river floodplain) areas are dominated by a handful of tree species that thrive in the moist soil of wetlands. Along freshwater creeks and rivers, these tend to be bald cypress, blackgum/tupelo, and red maple. Sweet bay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) is also common, but its leaves stay green, with a silver-gray underside visible in the wind.

The classic “swamp tree” shape of a cypress tree is due to its buttressed trunk, an adaptation to living in wet soils. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) is one of the rare conifers that loses its leaves. In the fall, cypress tress will turn a bright rust color, dropping all their needles and leaving a skeletal, upright trunk. Blackgum/tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) trees have nondescript, almost oval shaped leaves that will turn yellow, orange, red, and even deep purple, then slowly drop to the swamp floor. Blackgums and cypress trees share a characteristic adaptation to living in and near the water—wide, buttressed trunks. This classic “swamp” shape is a way for the trees to stabilize in the mucky, wet soil and moving water. Cypresses have the additional root support of “knees,” structures that grow from the roots and above the water to pull in oxygen and provide even more support.

A red maple leaf displaying its incredible fall colors. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

The queen of native Florida fall foliage, however, is the red maple (Acer rubrum) . Recognizable by its palm-shaped leaves and bright red stem in the growing season, its fall color is remarkable. A blazing bright red, sometimes fading to pink, orange, or streaked yellow, these trees can jump out of the landscape from miles away. A common tree throughout the Appalachian mount range, it thrives in the wetter soils of Florida swamps.

To see these colors, there are numerous beautiful hiking, paddling, and camping locations nearby, particularly throughout Blackwater State Forest and the recreation areas of Eglin Air Force Base. But even if you’re not a hiker, the next time you drive across a bridge spanning a local creek or river, look downstream. I guarantee you’ll be able to see these three tree species in all their fall glory.

A Landscape Combo for Native Fall Color:  Muhly Grass & Darrow’s Blueberry

A Landscape Combo for Native Fall Color: Muhly Grass & Darrow’s Blueberry

In the Panhandle, fall is the prettiest season for wildflowers.  Our roadsides and woodlands are covered with pinks, whites, yellows, blues, purples, and even a little red here and there.  Pretty as it may be, the beautiful wildflower look isn’t super appropriate for most yards.  It would look unkempt, a little “wild” if you will, would be hard to manage and is probably best enjoyed in natural areas.  However, we can bring some of the native colors of fall into our landscapes in a much lower maintenance, refined manner with two Panhandle species that pair excellently together, Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) and Darrow’s Blueberry (Vaccineum darrowii).

Muhly Grass and Darrow’s Blueberry in a local landscape. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.

Muhly Grass, the native grass with the pinkish/purple panicles blooming right now, has gained much popularity in recent years, earning a reputation as a near pest/disease free, drought tolerant, attractive landscape plant.  Operating in lieu of more traditional low growing shrubs in landscapes, Muhly is an airy, greenish gray bunch grass growing about 3-4’ tall and wide, lending informal, coastal texture to landscapes most of the year and really shining in fall during its flowering season.  Once established, it never needs extra water, prefers little fertilizer, and only needs a rejuvenation prune (or burn – the Leonard preferred method.  It’s fun and mimics the role of fire in Muhly’s native ecosystems!) every couple of years to keep it looking tidy.

Unlike Muhly Grass, Darrow’s Blueberry has not caught on broadly in the landscape industry but is no less deserving.  This native blueberry species only grows a couple of feet tall, produces edible fruit that wildlife enjoy, and adds an unusual blue green color to landscapes via its tiny-leaved, evergreen foliage.  It prefers the same sites as Muhly and is part of the reason they pair so well together.  Our mostly sandy, well drained soils work just fine, but both plants can handle soils that are occasionally wet.  A bonus, Darrow’s also has tiny, bell shaped flowers in spring that attract all manner of beneficial bee species.  This makes it a must in any native pollinator garden!

As good as these species are alone, I think they are better together.  In my family’s yard, we created a loose screen of widely spaced (8’ apart) Muhly Grass specimens around a pool, in the spirit of giving the area a “coastal” airy feel, and interspersed Darrow’s Blueberry in between.

The pink Muhly Grass flowers pair nicely with the green blue foliage of Darrow’s Blueberry. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.

The look has been outstanding, particularly in the late summer/early fall.  The pinky purple flowers of Muhly Grass complement the green-blue foliage of the blueberries nicely and provide easy, lasting color without having to worry about planting finicky annuals or perennials each season.

Landscaping with natives does not have to look wild and unkempt, nor does it have to be drab and unattractive.  Combining native yet showy plants like Darrow’s Blueberry and Muhly Grass makes for an unusual, refined, nearly no-maintenance feature in your landscape.  Look for these and other neat native plants at native nurseries and independent garden centers around the Panhandle.  If you’d like more information on native grasses, blueberries or any other horticultural topic, please contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office!  Happy Gardening!