Thursday, 9 August 2018

Flakkee Carrots


Mr Ferdzy lends a hand with Flakkee Carrots

This is another one that I'm a little surprised to realize I have never written about. On the other hand, carrots are one of the world's most popular vegetables and Flakkee is one of the most common older types of orange carrots out there - in a funny sort of way it is so ubiquitous as to be easily overlooked.

Actually, most of the carrots bought at the grocery store these days are much more likely to be F1 hybrids of some sort. Flakkee is one of the last widely-available open-pollinated carrots, although I have seen some F1 hybrids described as Flakkee types. Beware of carrot hybrids if you want to save your own seed. Carrots were one of the earliest vegetables to be converted by the seed industry to Cytoplasmic Male Sterility and just about every hybrid now has it (meaning no seed can be produced).

Flakkee straddles the line between being a named variety and simply a type of carrot. Their shape is also somewhat intermediate between a Danvers type, and an Imperator type. They are fairly long, longer than most Danvers, but they do end in a blunt tip (unlike the true Imperators). They can get quite large and in fact when the discussion turns to growing giant vegetables, their name tends to turn up. I can find very little about their history. I see a surprising number of seed-sellers claiming they are Italian. They may be popular in Italy, but they are plainly Dutch. The name is a reference to the Dutch island of Goeree-Overflakkee; one has to assume a centre of Dutch carrot culture. Orange carrots did develop in Holland, after all.

Just to make things more confusing, they are known by a number of other names. Autumn King is one you will see often; this is a particular selection of Flakkee. They may also be known as Flak. Flakkese 2 is described as a selection of Autumn King.

We have consistently found them one of our easiest and most productive carrots to grow. As an older type of carrot, they have lush, leafy tops, which perhaps means they can't be quite as crowded as the newer hybrids and varieties bred for minimal foliage. I think this gives them resiliency in the garden though, and in general I associate good foliage with good flavour. They need a relatively long season to fully develop. William Dam (where we get our seeds) says 75 days to maturity. I think that's a bit low. In good growing conditions, you can start harvesting them around then, but for full development and good winter storage you can expect them to need longer. The ones in the photo are probably not much past the 75 day mark, but I also wouldn't consider them particularly impressive specimens.

We often leave half of our carrots in the ground over winter for spring consumption; they keep as well there as anywhere for the home grower. My one caution is that the largest and most impressive carrots don't hold in the ground well. Perhaps water sits on the tops, and rots out the crown. You might as well pick your biggest and best in the fall, in other words. I save my carrots selected to go to seed next spring in our basement fridge, after having lost too many left in the ground. I can supplement them with the best of the spring-dug carrots, but this way I know I will have some, although a few always seem to rot in the fridge too, so check them occasionally through the winter. As for eating the spring-dug carrots, once they are ready to go to seed they will get tough and woody, so don't leave them too long. For fall digging on the other hand, we leave the main harvest as late as we can, which means just before it snows to stay or it looks like the ground will freeze.

So far as growing them goes, the same as for any other carrot. Don't plant them too early; the soil should be at least 10°C - in other words, wait until the dandelions bloom. Don't plant them too deeply, but in good stone-free and well-worked soil. Once they are in the ground they must be watered-watered-watered-watered-watered until they germinate, and after that regular waterings are important, but you can leave off watering twice a day. It is helpful to keep them covered during this time; people use things from row-cover cloth to plywood. Everyone says not to put compost on carrots, and it's true that too much compost will cause luxurious leafy tops but spindly, hairy, and forked roots. On the other hand it is my observation that carrots actually love compost - provided it was applied three years ago.

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