Learn the Art of Companion Planting
By Justin Butts
Words by: Justin Butts Photos by: Rachel Benavides
Carrots are one of the most distinctive of the garden vegetables—long, slender, orange, and sweet. But carrots did not always look that way. The original carrots, native to the mountains of Afghanistan, were stubby, fat, purple, and bitter.
Afghanistan sits at the volatile crossroads of East and West. The Greeks, Mongols, Persians, British, and Russians have all seen war there. For the last fifteen years, the warriors of America have fought with unparalleled skill along the same treacherous slopes where Alexander the Great once led his troops.
The soldiers from those ancient armies carried Afghan carrot seeds home to their distant lands, where they improved its cultivation. Finally, in the 1700s, a sweet orange carrot was bred in the Netherlands. This new carrot, called the Long Orange, is the source of all modern carrots.
You can grow carrots easily and well in your garden. Carrots like a wide bed of loose, well-turned, well-drained soil.
Carrot seeds are tiny (Danver’s Half-Long and Red Core Chanteney are favorite varieties). To make planting easier, sow radishes along with your carrots by mixing the carrot and radish seeds together into a cup of clean sand. Broadcast the sand/seed mixture evenly across your garden bed, then gently rake the bed to cover the seeds.
Or, draw parallel lines four inches apart across the row with your finger and sprinkle the sand/seed mixture down each line. Cover the seeds with ¼ inch of soil (don’t bury too deeply).
Carrots require three long weeks just to sprout, but your radishes will be fully mature within twenty to thirty days and ready to pull. Pulling the mature radishes from the bed will help thin your carrots and give them plenty of space to grow into maturity. Thin your carrots to final spacing of two inches.
If you plant your carrots now, the green tops will grow thick and lush by spring. On March 1st, plant your tomato transplants directly into the center of the bed of mature carrots. Tomatoes and carrots are perfect garden companions. The carrots will serve as living (and edible!) mulch for the tomatoes, and the tomatoes vines will offer much-needed shade to the carrots.
By using these companion planting techniques, you can harvest radishes, carrots, and tomatoes in succession, all from a small space, and keep your winter garden growing all the way into summer.