We live in a forest – not an enchanted one I have to concede, but one that is much more useful, unless you are an elf or a pixie. Ours is a food forest, a permaculture food forest that provides much of our food and a large portion of food for some of our animals. It is definitely a work in process but after 2 years we are satisfied with the progress we’ve made. We have lemons, limes, apples, pears, peaches, elderberries, grapefruit, nuts as well as smaller bushes – currants, gooseberries, rhubarb grow under the trees – and 13 raised vegetable beds. However, it’s not the trees and shrubs that I’m talking about today. It’s the carrots.
Yes, carrots! Good old, help you see in the dark carrots. Popular belief would have us feed many of these to our rabbits, but not so. Carrots contain a lot of sugar, so rabbits grown on a diet of carrots get fat. The green tops on the other hand are ripped out of my hands by the critters. They love them. I think perhaps they are really looking for the real deal, the crunchy orange bits at the end of the greens and have to make do with the greens. The donks get spare orange bits, especially when we’re giving a tour of our farm. Little fingers find it easy to offer Caspar and Toby carrot sticks and happily do so without too much danger of a donkey nibble. Carrots haven’t always been orange but they do help you see in the dark, or do they?
From Snopes.com: Carrots have long been touted for their efficacy in improving eyesight, and generations of kids have been admonished to not leave them on their plates lest they end up needing glasses. But are carrots the sight-boosters popular wisdom asserts them to be? And if not, where did this belief begin?While carrots are a good source of vitamin A (which is important for healthy eyesight, skin, growth, and resisting infection), eating them won’t improve vision.
The purported link between carrots and markedly acute vision is a matter of lore, not of science. And it’s lore of the deliberately manufactured type.In World War II, Britain’s air ministry spread the word that a diet of these vegetables helped pilots see Nazi bombers attacking at night. That was a lie intended to cover the real matter of what was underpinning the Royal Air Force’s successes: Airborne Interception Radar, also known as AI. The secret new system pinpointed some enemy bombers before they reached the English Channel.
British Intelligence didn’t want the Germans to find out about the superior new technology helping protect the nation, so they created a rumor to afford a somewhat plausible-sounding explanation for the sudden increase in bombers being shot down. News stories began appearing in the British press about extraordinary personnel manning the defenses, including Flight Lieutenant John Cunningham, an RAF pilot dubbed “Cat’s Eyes” on the basis of his exceptional night vision that allowed him to spot his prey in the dark. Cunningham’s abilities were chalked up to his love of carrots. Further stories claimed RAF pilots were being fed goodly amounts of this root vegetable to foster similar abilities in them.The disinformation was so persuasive that the English public took to eating carrots to help them find their way during the blackouts.
There is at least a bit of something to the carrots/vision presumption: Beta-carotene, which is found in the vegetable, may help reduce the risk of cataract and macular degeneration. However, it needs be pointed out that studies which have posited this link used doses of Vitamin A or beta-carotene that were higher than what is found in the standard diet. It would be quite difficult to eat the requisite number of carrots to match this level of intake. Also, among those who suffer a Vitamin A deficiency, nyctanopia (also known as nyctalopia or night blindness; the inability to see well in poor light) can be at least somewhat helped by adding carrots to the sufferer’s diet
For most of my adult life I have not been able to grow carrots. I didn’t get the thinning right, the baby carrots would disappear in the weeds anyway, the adult carrots would be twisted and stunted and late ones would be full of carrot fly larvae or split. But now, my carrots are show grade. They are perfect. They look like pictures of carrots in gardening books – long, straight and blemish free. But, here’s my confession. I don’t thin my carrots now. Ever. I plant into good quality “clean” soil, using a wire grid to mark out little squares. I place my grid on the surface of the garden and for carrots I plant in every second hole. This is a bit fiddly and down right difficult in the wind but after you get the hang of it, really doesn’t take long. Then I don’t need to thin anything as each carrot seed has room to grow. Because I’m not thinning I’m not disturbing the carrots and not creating lovely whiffs of carrot smell to attract the passing carrot fly. I am a bit careful to make sure that my soils has no big lumps in it, but apart from that I don’t go to too much bother. Most of our beds get fresh donkey poop and a blanket of straw for the winter and then in late winter, very early spring when I’m thinking of planting I choose a garden that had a gross feeder in during the previous year so I don’t have soil that is too rich in nutrients. I might, if funds allow add a bag or two of garden mix from the garden shop so that the initial weeds (if any) are smothered before the carrots germinate. If I’m doing this I simply spread the mix over the existing soil and place my grid for planting on top.
By early summer I usually have carrots, and carrots and carrots. Most years I plant carrots in at least two plantings, one early and one later. I try to plant at least 3 – 4 square metres of carrots so that I have plenty for us and the critters. Now that it’s winter we’re still harvesting perfect carrots from the first planting. The photo shows carrots picked last week. We try to live off what we grow, so it’s not a matter of deciding what to have for dinner by going to the supermarket, it is much more a matter of going to the food forest and seeing what there is to be harvested, and creating or finding a recipe based on that. Because our food growing area is a food forest there are all sorts of wonderful plants that we may have planted once that went to seed and have grown again. Fennel is one of these such plants. There does tend to be fennel everywhere. Some years I collect the seed, and other years I collect the pollen but some years I just don’t. We like fennel but recently we discovered a recipe for Fennel and Carrot soup.
Carrot and Fennel Soup (makes about 6 litres – halves well)
2 bulbs of thinly sliced fennel
1 T olive oil
2kg of carrots
6 cups of vegetable or beef stock
6 cups of water
t white pepper.
Salt to taste
Sauté the fennel in a large pot until it is transparent. Add all the remaining ingredients. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. The carrots should be tender.
If you intend to preserve (by pressure canning) your soup then mash it with a potato masher and follow your canner’s instructions.
If you are going to eat some of your soup, and maybe freeze the rest, then add salt to taste and blend with a hand blender or (carefully) blend the soup in a blender.
The soup is delicious on its own, but adding a garnish of chopped salami or crisped bacon and a dollop of sour cream or yoghurt make it really special. A tiny sprig of coriander or parsley finishes the dish.
We make our own bread, but great chunks of any fresh bread make this a complete meal.