Our carrots are grown behind reinforcing mesh. Lots of reinforcing mesh, about two metres high and half a metre deep, since a wombat 20 years ago worked out how to climb a reinforcing mesh fence.
Yes, I too was surprised that a wombat-shaped animal could climb, but she managed it. She couldn't work out how to climb down on the other side though, so would dive head first, landing with a thud. This didn't seem to disturb her, but worried me. So we increased the fencing.
Wombats love carrots. I love carrots, though not as much as wombats do. This is why we buy so many carrots: as the carrot grower, I feel I have first dibs on home-grown carrots. The wombats get the shop-bought ones.
A home-grown carrot usually isn't as straight as a commercially grown one, unless you have deep, friable, well-dug soil and no weeds to tempt the carrot root to twist. The home-grown ones may have slightly hairy, tiny sub-roots, too. They may not even look as deeply orange. But when I add a couple of home-grown carrots to a pot of tomato soup ingredients, the soup ends up bright orange, not red. Home-grown wields power.
This is still carrot planting time, especially if you (or your wombats) want to be eating them in winter. In cool to cold areas go for varieties specially bred as ''baby'' carrots or, my favourites, the round fat ones like Ronde de Nice. White and yellow carrots often grow faster, too – the original wild carrots were white or yellow till Dutch market gardeners developed the orange ones.
Make sure the ground is totally weed free. Carrot seed is tiny and seedlings are delicate and easily overcome by weeds. Try mixing the seed with dry sand, so the seed doesn't clump together, and leave plenty of space – about 30 centimetres – between rows, so that they get enough sunlight to grow. Feed as soon as they are a finger high, then not again or all you may end up with is lush tops and no root which is, after all, the purpose of a carrot.
Except from the carrot's point of view, of course. The true purpose of a carrot is to grow a carrot flower. A lovely white umbrella-shaped thing, which will then develop carrot seeds, hundreds of them on the single plant. Carrots will run to seed in spring – or even, in tough years, after a cold snap followed by a few stinking hot days.
The best way to prevent this is to water well each day. Mulch only if you are in a hot dry area – mulch can cool the soil and in cool to cold areas you want every bit of heat you can to get that crop before winter. Carrots will survive frost but won't grow much, or at all, just sit there till the days lengthen and they can run up to flower and produce those seeds.
Do try round carrots. Wombats might sniff at them, all shape and no great mass of carrots, but they are extraordinarily sweet and carrot flavoured – shop-bought ones are more crunch than scent. Kids love them, too. Don't bother with the purple ones or red-skinned ones, or indeed any fancy colours.
In fact, any veg with a French name like Ronde de Nice is a goer. The French know their veg – almost as well as wombats.
This week I'm:
- enjoying parsley made newly tender by all the rain, also rhubarb.
- carefully pulling up all stinking roger weeds as a Christmas guest mistook them for marijuana (NB I have never grown marijuana and the guest who mistook it obviously has never seen it grown either).
- remembering why a late summer tomato is one of the richest flavoured joys that it is possible to eat.
- farewelling the agapanthus and belladonna blooms for this year.
- welcoming the ginger lilies and their perfume that is almost thick enough to float on.
- explaining to the choko vine that it is not enough to grow lushly – a self-respecting choko vine gives fruit, too.