Sometimes my Childcare work is actually fun, to a degree where I feel a bit guilty for charging people to do it. Such was the case with the carrot crop, this year.
Carrots, like parsnips, are a biennial, and put their energy into forming a big root the first year. If you leave the root in the ground then the second year the carrot puts all the energy stored in the root into producing a beautiful flower (shaped like it’s close cousin, Queen Anne’s lace), and then produces so many carrot seeds that they can become a weed, in certain situations.
Because they are a biennial they handle freezes well, and I tend to harvest them last, for two reasons.
The first is that I have a tendency to procrastinate whenever possible, not because I am particularly lazy, but rather because life is so full of fun things to do that I always over-schedule. Usually I am busy doing one thing, but even when I am busy with one task I am procrastinating in terms of ten or twenty other tasks. This tends to get me in trouble, but also makes me highly skilled when it comes to inventing excuses for procrastinating. The best excuses are those which disguise the procrastination as part of a “plan.” And this brings me to the second reason for harvesting carrots last.
One year, as I was procrastinating in my usual way, I continued my usual habit of pulling a few carrots every day for my wife’s needs, and noticed that as the carrot greens finally browned (and they are one of the final things in the garden to give up on greenness in the autumn) that the carrot roots beneath the greens abruptly grew substantially larger. I suppose the carrot pulls all energy from those greens down into it’s roots. This was a great thing to discover. No longer was I procrastinating, but instead I was being a wise farmer and “ensuring my carrots achieved their optimum size.”
This year I nearly paid the price for this procrastination. The first hard, carrot-browning freeze of winter was not a “Squaw Winter” followed by an “Indian Summer”. (Yes, I know such terms are now politically-incorrect, but it is also politically-incorrect to criticize the traditions of an indigenous people, and, as the Yankee have been
squatting here stewards of New England for 399 years, I figure we deserve to be called “indigenous”), (especially by globalists who have no culture nor traditions whatsoever.)
This year the cold came with unusual ferocity, and the first blast was followed in short order by a second, and then a third. The autumn began to remind me of the start to the winter of 1976-1977, where the “Squaw Winter” came without an “Indian Summer”, and turned out to be “Real Winter” and froze our socks off all the way into February.
Usually our temperatures drop steadily through November; our lows bottom out around freezing at the start of the month and sink to around 24° (-4.4° Celsius) by the end of the month. But this November, during the three savage, arctic blasts that hit us, the high temperature was 24°, and the lows set records, around 12° (-11° Celsius) even back at the start of the month.
This led to a problem, when I took the children out to the “carrot harvest” at our Farm-childcare. The ground was frozen hard as iron, and the carrots were stuck in it like rivets. At first I thought I’d need a jackhammer to dig them out, but I managed to jump on my shovel with such zeal I broke through to the unfrozen earth, and then could pry up slabs and plates of brown, frozen earth, roughly three inches thick, with the tapered ends of orange carrots protruding from the bottom. By whacking and smashing these plates the plates could be broken into chunks, and the carrots wrenched free (and they tasted just as good when thawed) but to me it seemed like an awful lot of work, per carrot.
Of course, when you are dealing with children two, three and four years old, they have no idea that this is not how things are always done. Also they find it sort of fun to smash plates, and not get in trouble for it. Prying up the plates had me huffing and puffing, and I would have given the job up, but the kids were having such a blast I continued to pry up frozen slabs of earth even after I was too weary to break them up, and they kept up their smashing and prying-carrots-loose until we had filled a grain bag with some forty pounds, and they also all had small bags holding their “favorite carrots” to bring home with them.
I could not, in good conscience, allow them to think this was a usual carrot-harvest. We had done less than half of the twenty-four foot double-row in twice the time it would usually take to complete the entire harvest. I attempted to get across the idea I had procrastinated too long, but they’d had too much fun to understand Aesop’s fable about The Grasshopper and the Ant, and so I abandoned my moralizing and just told them I was going to try to “soften the soil”, to make the rest of the harvest easier.
Then I found an old, black tarp to cover the rest of the carrots with. I figured the black would absorb sunshine and might even thaw the soil. Most of the children were not the slightest bit interested, but this year I have one small boy who tags along with me and has an owlish interest in everything I do. He even reached out with his small hand and felt the black tarp along with me, noticing the slight warmth it gathered from the low November noon. He then owlishly listened as I reminisced, (like the garrulous old coot I am), about the winter of 1976-1977. There may not have been an Indian Summer that November, but I seemed to recollect the blasts did relent to a degree where temperatures were normal for a while, edging above freezing every noon. Perhaps the soil around our carrots could thaw.
I seem to get a small sidekick like this owlish boy every few years. They are precociously articulate, and what is especially nice is that they are deeply concerned about my well-being. They seem very aware I am hapless and need help, but they own this awareness in a manner that is amazingly respectful. For example, when I am rummaging through the staff’s packs for a missing flashlight (which we need for November’s early-evening darkness), this particular boy will first inquire what I am looking for, and, second, point out a flashlight I’d never notice at the back of a counter on the far side of the room.
If the sidekick is a female, it is like I have the secretary I’ve long yearned-for but could never afford, in the form of a four or five-year old girl. This small boy is like having a butler. He is unnaturally interested in my interests, and unnaturally helpful.
Where the other children forgot all about carrots under the onslaught of other interests, this young fellow popped up the next day, smiling and helpful, and querulously wondering in a piping voice if the soil had started to thaw under the tarp. This was helpful to me, for, under the onslaught of other concerns, I might have forgotten all about carrots myself. We checked the soil daily.
In any case, we lucked out. An Aleutian Low crashed east into Alaska, interrupting the southward delivery of arctic air and allowing us just enough sunshine and thaw to soften the soil under the tarp. (And if you don’t believe me, ask my small butler. Though born in 2014, he will inform you, “This may have happened in 1976 as well,”) (because he asked me.)
Because the soil under the tarp did thaw, the rest of the carrot-harvest was much easier, though at first the other children were less than eager. If you look at the picture at the start of the post, you’ll notice only two children are working, and the rest are standing around. Perhaps they were a bit desultory because there were no “plates” to break, but they soon got over that, which is why there are no further pictures. I was soon too busy “providing child care” to take pictures.
The first problem involved breaking up fights about who would get the shovel next, and be the next to get to dig carrots. I attempted to teach them about “taking turns” and “sharing”, but they were too impatient for that. They skipped off in all directions and returned with more shovels than I knew our Childcare possessed, including tiny shovels ordinarily seen when building sand castles on a beach. One girl couldn’t be bothered with a shovel, and scooped with her hands in a manner that puts badgers to shame.
The second problem was that dirt was flying in all directions, and I had to instruct the young in ditch-digger-protocol, and teach them how to dig without flinging a face-full of dirt at a neighbor. Despite my instructions, I had to pause to attend to eyes weeping muddy tears, but even that tearful, offended face swiftly became riveted on the next carrot.
No two carrots are alike. This seemed to intrigue the small children and make them dig faster. They were constantly exclaiming over how a carrot was especially fat or long or round or small or crooked, and would dissolve into gales of laughter over a carrot that forked like two legs (which made me cringe slightly, for, in prior years, a small, tertiary fork between the two “legs” has resulted in child-like hilarity and frank discussions, which can present problems to child care providers.)
I hardly dug at all, so busy was I with other issues, but I instructed the children to place the gold they dug up in a single pile. The pile looks small, in the picture at the start of this post, but it grew and grew. When I put all the carrots in a second grain bag it amounted to a second forty pounds (minus carrots children took home.)
Forgive me for being a bit smug, but I can’t help myself. We had a great time. Not a child whined all morning that they were bored or that they wanted to go home. Nor did my staff or myself need to concoct a “plan” or belabor a “curriculum”. The “curriculum” was “dig carrots”.
And what did this “curriculum” teach? At the very least it taught where carrots come from. (The first year my wife and I opened our Farm-childcare a small child asked me, “Why do you dig dirty carrots when you could get clean ones in plastic bags at the store?”)
Good things come from dirt. I don’t know why this is such a revelation. But a mother did give me a disapproving look, as she picked up her daughter after our carrot-harvest. She had just washed her daughter’s play pants, and already the knees were brown.