One last vegetable garden task remains. Thanksgiving is a just a few days away and while our late Fall weather has been relatively mild, we’ve still had some nights where the thermometer has dipped slightly below freezing. Which is completely survivable….if you’re a carrot 🙂 I usually wait to harvest the bulk of the carrot crop until they’ve been subjected to several nights of slightly below freezing temperatures. This cold treatment causes the carrots to concentrate their sugar content in order to try to prevent them from freezing. As a result, they gain a much sweeter flavor!
Initially, the soil will prevent the carrots from freezing outright, but as icy grip of winter progresses, the carrots will eventually freeze solid. Unless….you insulate them! One common practice is the place about 2 feet of dry fluffy leaves on top of the garden bed. This layer of “insulation” will protect the carrots from freezing. The green carrot foliage will eventually die off because of the cold but the carrot itself will be fine and continue to sweeten. It’s a good idea to mark the ends of each carrot row with a tall stake to make them easier to find after the foliage dies back. Be sure to replace the leaves (and snow) back over the remaining crop after each harvest. I usually grow carrots in a raised bed and I’m not sure that the lumber sides will provide sufficient insulation for them so for now, I harvest in late fall and use the blanch / freeze method to preserve my harvest (see my August post for more detail on this method). I keep in mind the recipes I will be using the carrots in as I dice them. For casseroles or sliced carrots with a butter/ herb glaze, I cut them into larger pieces. For soups, stews, or stuffing, I dice them into smaller pieces.
Because of the difference in size, the boiling times will be different. The larger pieces require 3 minutes of boiling and the small pieces only need 2 minutes. Remember that you don’t start the timer when you first put them in the boiling water. Wait until the water returns to a boil and then set the timer. As soon as the timer goes off, drain off the hot water and immerse the carrots into an ice bath to stop the cooking process. After they are cooled, the next step is to drain them and finally into freezer bags they go. It’s a little extra work but well worth the effort! And it’s certainly a lot less work than digging a root cellar 🙂