The topic of raw food diets is hot on many people’s lips these days. And, it’s not because of the Eskom debacle and the challenges facing us over power supplies. It’s more about people becoming aware of what is best for their health and well-being.
More and more we read the outcomes of research into the health-promoting effects of uncooked foods on our bodies, quite apart from the direct experiences people have when they discover the energising and cleansing effects of eating fresh, raw vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts and herbs grown in healthy soil. Not only this. Fresh, raw vegetables and fruits are regenerators and builders of the body; they contain all the substances needed for nourishing and healing us. They are subtle in their action, safer and more potent than any medicine, and are full of life-giving minerals and cosmic vibrations.
To ensure the freshness and quality of your food there is no more satisfactory way of ensuring its efficacy other than by growing your own vegetables and fruits in soil enriched with organic materials acted on by myriads of life forms which make the essential nutrients available for absorption by plant roots. If you’ve followed the vegetable growing articles in past editions of this magazine you will have already done the spade work and will be reaping the bounty from your labours.
Some advice on growing and harvesting popular vegetables for your raw food kitchen would not go amiss however. Let’s start with two crops (one of which is popular in most homes; the other may be relatively unknown, or untried), yet may cause you some angst when you first attempt to grow them. Both are excellent sources of Vitamin A which boosts the immune system and are therefore an important part of your diet with winter on our doorsteps.
How to grow… carrots
Carrots are power-packed with Vitamin A, and also a good source of vitamin B1 and B6.
Carrots are one of the easiest vegetables to grow and if you plant a few rows every three weeks you’ll have a continuous supply of them in your garden. Carrots are a major source of vitamin A and therefore important for eye health. Freshly pulled young carrots are crisp and sweet and delicious – just what the dentist ordered for healthy teeth. School lunch boxes should contain a fresh home-grown carrot (unpeeled) and young people should learn to eat carrots as a snack instead of sweets. Carrots are adaptable and grow under a wide range of conditions, but they prefer mild temperatures – not too hot, and not too cold.
Carrots grow best in a light, fine, deeply tilled, fertile soil that holds moisture yet drains well – the trench bed is ideal. A good sprinkling of old dry wood ash worked into the topsoil gives carrots the potash (potassium) they need. Heavy soils can be lightened by digging in some river sand.
Sow the seed directly into the ground – do not transplant. Carrot seed should be sown very thinly to avoid excessive thinning which could damage the remaining plants. Place the first three fingers of your right hand together to form a little trough. Pour the seed carefully from a small hole in the packet into the finger trough and sprinkle very gently along the row.
The seeds are very small and it is difficult to sow them thinly. A mixture of seed and dry sand at the rate of six parts sand to one part seed can assist in even distribution. One packet of carrot seed should be sufficient for 5 to 6 rows. Plant rows 25cm apart. Over-crowding will produce numerous small and under-size roots, resulting from the uneven extended germination period.
Initial growth is very weak and may be suppressed in poorly prepared soils or soils which are inclined to cap. Where capping does occur it is advisable to wet the soil before sowing and to withhold any further watering until germination is completed. Under very hot conditions or during periods of heavy rains, germination may be poor unless the rows are lightly mulched. Straw makes a good mulch in these instances as it is coarse and allows light and warmth through to the developing plant. The mulch should be removed after germination or it will lead to weak, leggy plants.Unused seed is good for three years before it starts to lose its viability.
To keep your carrots growing happily plant them alongside onions, chives, leeks, rosemary, sage, tomatoes and lettuce. Give dill a miss. Carrots don’t like it.
Caring for carrots as they grow
• Thinning is important and can be done in two stages – first when the seedlings are 5cm tall, thin them to stand about 5cm apart in the rows. It is better to snip off the unwanted plants at the crown (where the root starts) rather than to pull them out – so that the remaining roots are not disturbed.
• When the plants are half grown gently thin them further and use the thinnings in the kitchen. Add them to salads or put them through the juicer with other vegetables.
• Weeds must be removed as soon as they appear – especially in the early stages – so as not to compete with the young plants.
• Keep the ‘shoulders’ of the carrots covered with soil to prevent them turning green and bitter when exposed to the sun.
The soil in which carrots are growing must be kept evenly moist for the 2 – 3 week germination period. In very dry weather keep the bed moist by covering it with damp sacking just till germination starts. As the carrots grow bigger be very careful not to give too much water as this could cause the roots to split. The soil must never be allowed to dry out completely. When the seedlings are nearly 5cm high apply a light mulch of well-rooted, fine compost to feed the plants and keep the soil moist.
When to harvest
50 days after planting the seeds for baby carrots and around 80 days for mature carrots. Some people say the leaves change colour when carrots are ready for harvesting.
Carrots (a light feeding root crop) should follow a leafy vegetable (heavy feeders) and remember not to plant carrots where parsley or celery have been growing as they belong to the same family and are therefore susceptible to the same pests and diseases.
What makes your carrot crop go wrong?
• Stones and hard lumps of earth which get in the way of growing carrots will cause them to become short, fat and deformed. Be sure that the soil in which they grow is well worked before planting.
• When the soil in which carrots are grown becomes too dry and then gets too much water, the carrot roots will swell and then split.
• Under no circumstances should carrots be planted into soil which has been freshly manured or composted as this will cause the roots to fork, grow crooked and develop a rough, hairy skin. Excess nitrogen in any form also encourages excessive leaf growth and reduces root development. What looks like a healthy crop on the surface will give disappointing yields.
Pests and diseases
In the home garden carrots are seldom troubled by insect pests, but occasional aphids and cutworms may become a nuisance. Possible diseases are leaf blight and root knot nematodes. These diseases, however, are not a threat if crop rotation is practiced.
Aphids must be removed as soon as you see them. Hose or spray them off with a jet of water three times at three-day intervals. Encourage predators such as ladybirds and praying mantids which love to eat aphids.
Leaf blight is a fungal disease which attacks the leaves (usually in wet weather) causing them to curl and turn brown.