The idea to leave carrots in the ground into winter came from Denise and Fred Radford. This lovely couple has a front yard and backyard vegetable and flower garden in the Belgravia neighbourhood and we had the fortune of visiting them as part of the Edible Garden Tour in August.
Denise explained to our wide-eyed group that she found a way to keep rows of carrots in her raised beds until late November. She makes a nice, thick duvet for her veggies by covering them with large bags of dried leaves and piling snow on top. When she needs more carrots, she lifts some of the bags, digs up a row, and then replaces the protective covering. Parsnips are even hardier and the Radfords have left them over Christmas.
I was keen to try this method, although I thought it was a rather risky! However, out of necessity, I decided to experiment. We had a warm fall and in October, my basement “cold” storage remained above 10°C; the fridge was full of other vegetables, and I ran out of time to find other solutions before going overseas for a trip. On October 13, I covered 3 short rows of Nantes and Chantenay carrots with 2 overlapping layers of leaves in large garbage bags. Two weeks later, we had almost a foot of snow, and that was great for extra insulation.
The minimum temperatures in November were fluctuating, but it was definitely below zero Celsius. Below is a graph showing minimum temperatures in November.
When I was digging, the soil near the edge of the raised bed was frozen and not easy to pry up. Toward the middle of the bed, the soil was fairly soft and moist. The carrots came out in clumps that seemed frozen, but after some time in the house, they were beautiful, fresh and sweet. Only one or two rotted after a few days. They were likely growing near edge of the bed where they had less protection.
Around December 10, the average minimum temperature was -16°C. I called the Radfords and they still had some carrots and parsnips in the ground – they were waiting for warmer weather to dig some up and see how they were doing. Maybe I’ll leave some carrots in the ground even longer next year…