One could think that nothing is easier than growing carrots. All that is needed is a well-prepared, soft bed of soil, a quarter pound of carrot seeds, and one of those precision seeders (which may or may not work the way you expect them to do). Since carrot seeds are frost hardy, you pick one of those warm days in April to run the seeder along a strung-out line and 3 months later you will be harvesting beautiful juicy sweet carrots by the bunches. With some luck you will also be the first at the market with that crop, and the customers will line up at your stall to get your carrots.
It does not quite work out this way, at least not for me. I have yet to find a seed catalogue, or even one of those lavishly illustrated gardeners’ how-to books which inform you that your 2000 carrot seeds have to compete with tens of thousands of weed seeds in that nicely tilled and fertilized row.
It takes about three weeks for the carrot seeds to germinate which gives you plenty of time to concentrate on other tilling/sowing/weeding/planting priorities. However, if after 2 weeks you take a casual glance at the carrot row you discover to your great delight that pretty green ribbon stretching along the 160 feet carrot row, and you congratulate yourself on your superior gardening skills. The elation does not last long when, at closer inspection you find that the green ribbon consists of quack grass, thistles, pigweed, bindweed, and lambs quarters with a few tiny carrot seedling (which look like weeds anyway) barely visible. The problem is that the weeds grow at an alarming rate. So, if you want to take early carrots to the market, your priorities will change in an instant: forget everything else and pull out the weeds before they choke the carrots for good.
I must admit that I have lost more carrot crops than any other vegetable to weeds.
This year I have made a resolution to let no weeds interfere with my carrots, mainly because the seed company sells them no longer by weight but counted. I did not bother to check whether the small package really contained 10,000 seeds, but it was very little. Therefore it was imperative that every single seed would turn out to be a marketable carrot.
I calibrated the seeder to the exact depth and rototilled as deeply as possible. Then I loaded the seeder, and off we went down the 160 feet row marked by binder twine.
Well, it was still early in the spring, the soil was a bit sticky, and a cold wind blew from the west. It was hard enough to push the seeder through the wet soil, a few rocks made the seeder jump, and then a sudden gust of wind pushed me off course. That was it for a straight row, but I convinced myself that this did not matter.
The weather turned nasty, so muddy that walking on cultivated soil was not possible. It took two weeks before I could check on the progress in the carrot row, and sure enough it had turned into a green ribbon consisting of the aforementioned quack grass, pigweed, lambs quarters, bindweed, and thistles, but no carrots. They showed up one week later, tiny, barely recognizable, irregularly spaced, and sometimes a foot away from the designated line.
As miserable as the row looked, the carrots had to be salvaged, a.s.a.p.
I started early in the morning. It promised to be a nice day with a gentle cool breeze and not too many blackflies. I went down on my knees getting my face as close as possible to the ground so that I could see the difference between quack grass and carrot seedlings, wondering how the hell I was going to make it through a few hours in that position. The un-informed passerby, however, might have mistaken me for a deeply religious person, kneeling down in a prayer of thanksgiving.
Work proceeded quite nicely, although I had a few problems with figuring out which way the row went. Then I heard this squealing sound, reminding me of a whining baby coming towards me. The mosquitoes had arrived looking for tender feeding spots like my ears and my eyes. I swore loudly, not shying away from profanity, and slapped my head to kill the bloodthirsty insects. The un-informed passerby, however might have mistaken me for a repentant sinner castigating himself.
After a while I got used to the mosquitoes and just let them sting me. Halfway along the row the horseflies and deerflies came. They use the very clever strategy to buzz loudly around you and then seem to fly away when you chase them. Then they come back very quietly for the hit. They are definitely not something one can get used to, because their bites really hurt. So when I heard them coming I jumped up and tried to kill them in the air. To the un-informed passerby I might have looked like a very religious person who felt the joyous need to jump up every so often to clap his hands and shout “Halleluiah!”
After two hours only twenty feet of weeding needed to be dealt with. My knees hurt, I was tired, sweaty, hungry, and thirsty, but still determined to finish the job. Suddenly three turkey vultures started to circle above me. They are known for their fine sense of smell, steadily on the lookout for dead meat of any kind. Since weeding of carrot seedlings is an extremely slow job, they must have gotten the idea that this motionless body down there could possibly be lunch for them.
Being beyond the age of 65 it is a good idea to check my vital signs from time to time. It was quite a relief that I could feel my pulse. Then it dawned on me that I had attracted the vultures with my smell. Immediately I called it a day, had a good shower, a beer, lunch, and the obligatory snooze.
There is now a twenty foot stretch of very tall weeds left in the 160 foot carrot row, but I survived. That should count for something, I suppose.