I am an avid gardener, husband, father of three grown children. Those children try to get home as often as they can to eat the food from the garden, especially in tomato season. I am also a former elementary school principal and teacher, who began gardening with students in 1996 and has been ceremoniously eating carrots with students for over twenty years. I believe that the goal of the gardener/farmer is to build the soil. It is my hope that Carrot Day Massachusetts will build the soil of our community by giving folks the experience of a really good carrot. When a person has eaten a really good carrot, they might be on a path of growing more food and loving to eat vegetables.
Well it has been a while since I last wrote and I hope you, your family and your gardens are doing well.
In May, Katy and I were blessed with visits from all three of our children and their partners. Each pair stayed for a little over a week and we had lovely weekend overlaps. I am pleased to say the garden kept up with the crowd and fed us greens and radishes all month.
Yesterday I put carrot seeds in the ground and I am hoping to see them up and in about ten days or two weeks. I planted them with rows of radishes in between as my mother advised me to do in my childhood gardening days.
It is not too late to plant post-frost carrots and I still have seeds to send out if you are interested and I would love to get closer to the goal of sending out seeds to 80 folks. Here is the form if you want to order the seeds.
Here in Massachusetts it is officially spring and has been spring for a few days now. Two days ago I took these pictures of bulbs in our yard at 41 Western Ave in Hull. Our crocuses have never looked better and the chionodoxa lucilea flowers are also nice reminders of “the more” that is to come in April.
Other than the photographs included here, my only message today is that I hope you use the form below to order your free carrot seeds.
These pictures were taken on Monday. The cold frame kale is seen here in all its spring glory, and cold frame turnip is tempting too, but I think I will let the turnip get a bit bigger before I harvest it and well, the collards, I am just hoping.
I ate some kale leaves last night for dinner and they were unbelievably good. While collards are the heartiest of these three plants, not having the protection of a cold frame shows in their browns leaves. I am hoping I might get a few collard leaves anyway before this springs planting is ready to eat as the collards roots may have survived — time will tell.
May we all be kind to ourselves and give our collards and ourselves space and tolerance, every little bit that we give and produce matters.
Right before I started to write this post I took some photographs to document the garden and my state of mind.
When I was fifteen I spent a summer living with my Uncle Henry and his partner Mary, both potters. My mother knew that aspects of school were hard for me and admired how I made things. She thought living with her brother would be just right for me, and she was right–it was life changing. As I prepared to write this post I went to take some photographs of my cold-frames. While I was taking the pictures I was reminded of a story my Uncle Henry told me that summer. He saw me peering into a kiln before it had properly cooled. Henry laughed and said that I reminded him of the story of a famous Japanese potter who in his late seventies was out peering into his kiln before it was cool. It is hard to wait for a cooling kiln and it is hard to wait for spring.
I went out and peered in the cold frames to take the pictures below of arugula, lettuce, and kale. I was not surprised that the arugula and kale had survived the winter, but that head of butter lettuce and how good it looked did surprise me. I had picked almost all of the lettuce in early January but had left a couple of plants as an experiment. Well, the lettuce did just fine. I think we had enough snow cover when it was really cold so snow and the cold-frame kept it nice and blanketed.
By the end of March the cold frames will be off the kale and perhaps the arugula as well, and substantial food will be coming out of the garden.
But the big news around here is that the Fedco Seed box arrived! It was a hard year to order seeds from Fedco due to a huge demand and it took over a week and two delightful telephone calls with a great person at Fedco to help me place my order, which included seven ounces of carrot seeds. Google tells me that there are anywhere from 11,300 to 34,000 carrot seeds in every ounce, so I have between 80,000 and 240,000 carrot seeds and I want to get them out to you!
Well it is the third year for this blog. I am looking forward to 2021 and expecting a better year. I plan to spend some of this year on carrot centered work as I hope for tiny steps to “tend our garden” and heal the world.
Growing and ceremoniously eating carrots are the tasks of this work. Last year because of the pandemic it was hard to have big carrot parties but may 2021 be very different with many carrot celebrations from small to large in the fall of 2021.
My hope is that a by-product of our collective work is the building of community, inspiration of a land ethic, and small steps in saving our habitat. Hope is a super-power, let’s use it.
Some of you may know that I like to quantify acts and interactions to try to make sense of the world. Here is a list of last year’s blog’s publish dates, reading times and titles. There were ten posts:
02/09/2020 1 minute read Carrot Day 2020
03/07/2020 1 minute read Carrot Seeds
03/31/2020 2 minute read Carrot Seed Order
05/05/2020 2 minute read May
06/01/2020 5 minute read June
07/02/2020 2 minute read July, a Time for Thinning
08/01/2020 3 minute read August, Guest Post by Laney Siegner
09/13/2020 1 minute read Mid September
11/28/2020 1 minute read Carrot Day 2020
Ten seems a good number but who knows about this year, maybe nine, maybe eleven? I am ordering seeds this week and I am hoping to send out seeds to 80 folks this year. The first year I sent out 33, last year 52.
Now carrots seeds are small and they germinate slowly and they like wet soil of about 50 degrees so conditions do not not always cooperate for carrots. This past summer in Massachusetts it was brutally dry so I am thinking that it might be good to push up the planting from the beginning of June to the last week in May. The timing is hard because if you plant too soon then it is a bit too long for the perfect magic of frost on a carrot.
One thing I love about Carrot Day is that it helps me stay in touch with friends. Last month a friend, the writer and climate activist, Kim Stanley Robinson, wrote to me about carrot growing in Davis California. We became friends in the early 1990’s in Davis when our children were very small and we both had gardens and shared a love of nature. Stan is a sage who is one of the world’s most important voices in stopping our journey to a future of habitat loss and a mass species extinction. Stan’s work is a warning but as Bill McKibben writes Stan is “at heart an optimist,” and Stan plants carrots. Let’s all be all optimists and plant carrots, tend them and harvest after a frost (if we live in places with frost) and then have a party.
Stan wrote me: Casey forwarded me your blog on carrot growing and I have to tell you I have been an enthusiastic grower of carrots in my garden for many years, though I find it really hard to get a successful start. I prep the soil etc. and plant seeds as if planting grass, just lots and lots of seeds, then keep it wet for a couple weeks, and when it works it really works— a field of carrot tops I can pluck from early on and then have carrots for months on end from that one bed. But half the time, I get no starts at all from all those seeds! It’s either big success or total failure. But it’s fun to try, and for years it was the only thing I grew in my garden that my boys would eat.
Hope you grow carrots this year even though it can be hard. Together we can grow more of our own food, give more back to our soil and inspire children to love vegetables. Just last week a group of sixth graders who experienced a minor carrot celebration in November begged me for carrots and I know from many of you that a child in your life inspired your family to put in a garden. Those kids were inspired by gardening in school and eating really good carrots and they inspired you to grow gardens.
I hope you enjoyed your Carrot Day celebrations and your carrot growing.
I had three different Carrot Celebrations, and loved every one.
May you have a great winter and may we all sow our carrots next spring, perhaps in solitude but here is hoping for big Carrot Celebrations next fall.
One of my favorite stories of this year’s carrot day is about the lone carrot on the bottom left of the carrot gallery. Here is what the farmer wrote about that carrot, “Here is the total result of my labors. Three carrot seed varieties, three plantings, netting, frequent watering, weeding. A carrot! I referred to it as the multitaskers carrot patch. Other challenges were drought and curious chickens.”
Please join us next year and while I love carrots, I close with this photo of me with a couple of beets and if you can put seaweed down on your garden in the next month or so your beets too may grow this big. As we take from the earth in harvest we should always give back more in compost and my favorite compost is seaweed. We are growing carrots and food but our real goal is healthy soil. May the love of a really good carrot build our soil and add to our lives, one child, one garden, one experience at a time.
Well this will be the last Carrot Blog before the frost here in Massachusetts.
I hope that your carrots continue to grow and that we have a wonderful time on Carrot Day Massachusetts when it comes. One of the central joys of Carrot Day is that it is the weather and not a prescribed date on a calendar that selects the date. It is a nice to look forward to frost and while it is predicted to dip below freezing tonight on Mt. Greylock, the highest spot in Masscusetts, here on the coast frost and Carrot Day is probably at least several weeks away.
I have been getting carrot pictures from carrot friends this fall and the pictures above are two such examples. The photo on the left shows a fabulous carrot bed in Holbrook and on the right from a stove top in Rockland shortly after being pulled from the ground.
I encourage you to leave most of your carrots in the ground until the frost. Please document your own post-frost Carrot Day celebrations and I will include as many photos as I can in the next post.
Be well and keep gardening and eating vegtables with young folks.
For the first time when I woke up this morning there was a bit of chill in the air. The tomatoes are winding down from what was for my garden a below-average year, with some very good individual tomatoes but not the quantity we wanted and expected. Other news from the garden was better, as the cucumbers and beets have been exceptional and the arugula has been as reliable as ever, so I can keep my neighborhood name, “Arugula Ted.” Oh and the beds of carrots I tend (in four different locations) are looking good and plentiful.
I have been doing a little bit of selective pulling of carrots to give those that are left more room for growth in the next two months. These culled carrots have been good but only a hint of what they will become with the coming cold nights.
I want to thank Laney Siegner for the last Carrot Day post for raising the level of education and elevating the mission of Carrot Day to talk about carbon sequestration and doing what each of us can to slow the rise in global temperature that, because as we saw last year in Australia and now in the US is diminishing our earth’s resilience.
Keep doing all you can and know that in Massachusetts frost will come and the carrots will be good.
In this month of abundant harvests, the coming of tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans, corn, onions, and more to the gardens of New England, let us do as Wendell Berry encourages and “say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant, that you will not live to harvest.” Invest in the millennium. Because even as our gardens bring so much joy and nutritious fulfillment into our lives, let us think beyond them and tend to this wild and tumultuous world we are living in. How can we ensure that we are tending the harvests of future generations, sowing the seeds now for successful sustainable food production into the climatically-changed future? We home gardeners are needed right now, and let us heed the call to action.
As many across the country jumped at the opportunity to start their own home gardens as part of their personal response to the COVID pandemic, let us be reminded of some of the motivation behind the home gardening movement: seeking to reconnect with nature, perhaps providing for one’s family or community with fresh and healthy produce, endeavoring to “do something” positive and productive when so much agency and connection was taken away.
In this month of bounty, it is a perfect time to recall the roots and seeds of such vegetative delights. First and foremost, say a big thank you to the soil. Let this be a month of gratitude and appreciation and forward thinking. The theme of this post is soil and carbon sequestration, an ode to the powerful community of microbes, fungi, bacteria, and organic matter that ensures the successive fertility of your garden and, incredibly, holds part of the great key we need to turn to unlock climate mitigation and adaptation globally.
Soils, and their capacity to store and cycle carbon (that originated as atmospheric CO2) as a beneficial and multifaceted element driving life, health, and resilience, have captivated me ever since I started farming and gardening 6 years ago. Think about all that CO2 up in the atmosphere, wrecking havoc on Earth’s climate systems, and then think about all the plants and trees that are working to suck up that CO2 and transform it into beneficial carbon-containing compounds below ground, that then become critical nutrients in our food supply. It’s a truly impressive orchestration of Sun-powered Nature at work.
If we as home gardeners can learn a bit more about the specific practices that aid in increasing our soil’s capacity to store carbon (therefore also storing and holding water more efficiently), and advocate for more gardening and farming operations to do the same; if we can organize and communicate to our elected officials that we want to see an American agriculture that incorporates soil carbon sequestration as a key focal area unlocking both climate resilience and a healthier food supply; if we can be part of the grassroots soil solution to the climate crisis, we will have contributed greatly to the challenges of our time from within the confines of our bountiful, abundant, tomato-laden plots. What are some of the carbon-sequestering practices? Add compost. Don’t till or disturb the soil. Cultivate green manures in the winter season. Rotate crops. Use legumes (beans, peas, etc.) to fix Nitrogen and provide fertility to other plants. These and other soil health practices are summarized in a recent video I made for an online climate school, Terra.do, to teach adult professionals about carbon sequestration via regenerative agriculture.
There is also a great article from Civil Eats back in January about black farmers who are leading the way towards implementing climate-friendly practices, written by the amazing Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm in upstate NY. Cited in the article is this factoid from the recent book The Carbon Farming Solution: “for every 1 percent increase in soil organic matter, we sequester 8.5 tons per acre of atmospheric carbon.” The article continues, “If all of us were to farm like Jenkins, Diggs, and Cameron, we could put 322 billion tons of carbon back in the soil where it belongs. That’s half of the carbon we need to capture to stabilize the climate. As Larisa Jacobson, co-director of Soul Fire Farm explains, ‘Our duty as earthkeepers is to call the exiled carbon back into the land and to bring the soil life home.’”
The best part? Storing carbon in the soil is fundamental to building healthy soil and growing healthy plants, so if your garden is healthy, you’re probably already doing your part for carbon sequestration
In the late 1950’s Pete Seeger took the words of Ecclesiastes and made the song called “Turn Turn Turn” about how to live and when to take action. It became an rallying cry for many in the 1960’s. It is a song about finding the moment to act, and it speaks to the entirety of life-political, social and personal.
“To everthing, there is a season-and a time for every purpose under heaven…a time to be born, a time to die… a time to build up, a time to break down…a time to dance, a time to mourn….a time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together.” The song became a famous anthem against the Vietnam War perhaps because of its last line: “A time for peace, — I swear it’s not too late.”
Now is the time for action– to hold our country accountable, and to live up to the true meaning of the creed that all men and women are created equal.
One very important need of the moment is to care or our community, ourselves, our young and old. May this be, too, a time for gardening and especially to grow frost kissed carrots in the garden. Here in Massachusetts it is the time to get your carrot seeds in the ground. If planted in June it is the time to thin the carrots.
Alice Munro, the Canadian writer who won the Noble Prize for Literature in 2013, is celebrated for recording the intensity of feelings of life in a small frame. When I read her short story “Night” for the first time the following passage about thinning carrots resonated with me: “I remeber squatting down to thin the baby carrots as you had to do every spring, so the root would grow to a decent size to be eaten.”
So few words, so evocative of my own experience: the “squatting down,” the “as you do every spring,” the “grow to a decent size to be eaten.” Now is our time for action and for thinning carrots.
There is a passage in Shakespeare Julius Ceasar, “There is a tide in the affairs of men, / Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune, / Omitted, all the voyage of their life / Is bound in shallows and in miseries, / On such a full sea are we now afloat, / And we must take the current when it serves, / Or lose our ventures..”
So now is the time for us to act for greater adherance to the true meaning of our creed, and to fight for social justice. If you have the good fortune to have a garden it is also a time to thin carrots and to acknowledge that all do not share in your good fortune. That is what I plan to do today.
I started this garden season back in October under a cold frame by sowing spinach and arugula. Then in February I tripled the area under cultivation, again under cold frames. I planted lettuce, kale, beets, turnips and radish seeds. Those early plantings mean that right now at the beginning of June we have been eating our own food for three months. Back in March each of those home grown foods was precious and eaten ceremoniously. But not right now, now food is pouring out of the garden and the daily harvest swells our kitchen. Every day Katy and I eat great quantities of that food but even we can’t eat it all.
Little gives me more pleasure than giving vegetables to friends. Most of those friends have land and they could choose to dig up their grass and grow food. Most don’t devote themselves to growing food. I choose to dedicate significant amounts of energy to growing food and I indirectly benefit from my neighbors choice not to to do so as I need friends to want the excess harvest.
However some of my friends don’t have a choice about growing or not growing food. On Tuesday May 26th I gave a friend, Dakota, a big bag of arugula, spinach, mustard and lettuce and said proudly like a child, “Picked this morning!” She said, “Thank you Ted. You don’t know what this means to me.” Dakota then paused and shook her head and said, “I would love to be able to grow my own food. Do you know how lucky you are to be able to grow your own food? Nothing would make me happier. It reminds me of visiting my family, in Costa Rica, and being told to go out back and pick a mango. That is the life I wish I could live.” Later in the conversation she talked about the injustice of our American life. She said that despite how hard she has worked and with all she has accomplished (Dakota is an absolutely astounding teacher) she has still not been able to get a loan to buy her own house.
She is right. It is not right that she can not get a loan. And it is also not right I had not realized how lucky I am.
I have grown my own food and had my own garden or worked on a farm for almost fifty years and I don’t think I had once stoppped to consider how lucky I was to have the space and time and physical ability to grow of my own food. I just had thought it was a choice I had made to devote my energy and effort to growing my own.
Every now and then someone will say something to me that makes me perceive a wider world, that changes who I am. On that day and the days that followed what Dakota said made me more present, more aware and more determined to advocate for universal access to health.
As the Covid 19 weeks go on and on and decades and centuries of racial bias are demonstrated the undeniable unfairness of our social contract is more and more exposed. The original sin of our country, racism, is too clear to see even if you are trying to not see it. The statistics of who is dying of covid and in custody tell that story all too clearly.
The history of discrimination in America is not restricted to police, education, and capital. There have been systematic political decisions that have been made that have taken Black American Families off the land and out of home ownership. The world of Edna Lewis and a close and healthy community that grew and cooked its own food was once quite common, it is not now. The story of the treatement of Black Americans is not a story of steady progress from the bad old days to Barak Obama — this can be clearly seen in the land holding of African Americans. In 1920 when Edna Lewis was a child there were 949,889 black farmers in the United States in 2019 there were 45,508 black farmers in the US and those farmers on average earn 22% of what white farmers earn.
Clearly political action by young people is needed. Clearly political action by old people is needed. Clearly a more honest telling of our national story is needed. Clearly each person confronting unfairness on large and small scales is needed. Clearly civic action and voting are needed.
Writing about gardening, planting carrots and encouraging others to plant carrots is a small and at times seemly unimportant passion. That is true. However small acts that teachers make like Carrot Day Massachusetts for children can lead to healthy bodies, healthy minds and healthy land. Stewardship and the opening up of access to land are big things and an important step towards a more just and healthy country.
On that same Tuesday May 26 I gave a second bag of greens to another friend. Later she wrote me a text that said in part, “It had all the delicious greenness that anything grown by you does, as somehow, your warmth of spirit and loving heart become infused in your produce.” I thanked her for those kind and generous words and I also corrected her. It was not my personal qualities she tasted but the qualities of really good soil. The deliciousness Edna Lewis experienced in Freetown Virginia in the 1920’s came not just by fresh home grown food it came from healthy farming and gardening practices. Healthy soil produces food with more nutrition and as the chefs will tell you flavor is a signal of nutritious food. I wrote my friend back and said it was not me but good soil that produced that “delicious greenness.” In my text I did take credit for the garden soil. I stated that I had nurtured it with seaweed and minimal till agriculture for over twenty years.
Now think of the privilege that lives in the facts of the last two sentences of the previous paragraph. It is true that I worked hard on that soil for twenty years but I was given the opportunity to build the same soil for twenty years. That is good fortune and because of systematic racism my good fortune has come at the expense of others, I was wrong to think of the quality of the soil as a product merely of hard work.
Why I am so passionate about Carrot Day? Why is this the form of my continued connection to elementary schools and their families?
I write this blog this because it is fun and because I believe and have seen how the taste of a really good carrot can influence how people live their lives. I have gardened with school children for 24 years and in that time I have heard from many families that their children got them to put in a garden. I have also publicly advocated for turning front lawns into front vegetable gardens. Few have followed that lead but the children have led their families into growing their own food.
This spring I learned about several former K- 2 students who studied with me at Holly Hill Farm and graduated from college this spring with a focus on the environment. In fact one of them graduated from Bard College with a degree in Urban and Environmental Studies with a focus on Agriculture.
Who knows all of the land and agricultural policies he will be able to influence and maybe eating a really good carrot is one of the reasons he is off to change a world that needs changing. Here’s to making a more just and fair country and a healthy world one relationship and one carrot at a time.
I still have planty of carrot seeds and a mid to late June planting is perfect time to plant “frost kissed carrots.” Get them by filling out this form.