The world-famous carrot, beloved by Bugs Bunny and epicureans alike, originated in the Middle East and were predominantly purple and white in color prior to the 17th century. Following some tweaking by the Dutch, an orange variety became the predominant crop, but purple, white, red, and yellow carrots are regaining popularity due to their unique appearance. Not commonly seen due to people’s affinity for the roots, biennial carrots will produce beautiful white flowers in their second growing season if the roots are left unharvested.
An heirloom carrot variety, Scarlet Nantes has been grown in gardens all over the US since the early 1900s. This variety will grow to about 6 to 8″ in length and tends to be highly uniform in appearance compared to some other varieties. The Scarlet Nantes does not possess much of a core. These carrots are an easy vegetable to grow as they are relatively non-fussy about their soil type, are resistant to frost, and don’t fall prey to many types of pests or diseases.
Seed Depth: 1/4–1/2″
Space Between Plants: 2–4″
Space Between Rows: 6–8″
Germination Soil Temperature: 75°F
Days for Germination: 6–10
Sow Indoors: Not recommended.
Sow Outdoors: 3–5 weeks before the last frost and onset of spring.
Vegetative: Place carrot tops, with greens, in a shallow dish of water and new roots will sprout. This won’t yield you a whole new carrot, but the resulting plant may produce seeds for next year.
Originally from Afghanistan and east Asia, carrots enjoy sandy soils with cool nights and thrive in USDA Zones 4–8. Colder weather and ground temperatures promote a sweeter, crunchier, more satisfying carrot. Keep your carrots in the ground during the first frost in preparation to harvest, but cover tops beforehand with shredded leaves or hay.
Natural: Full sun.
Artificial: Needs 8–10 hours of light per day. Use a full spectrum T5 fluorescent bulb.
Soil: A slightly acidic pH of 5.5–6.5 is recommended for growing carrots. Coming from areas of poor soil, they do not need rich, loamy soil, and excess nitrogen present in fertile soils will only cause problems. Keep carrot soil temperatures cool. Till adequately so that the root vegetable has ample room to grow and expand.
Soilless: Seedlings will germinate in soilless media, such as coco coir with perlite (for added drainage).
Hydroponics: Thrives in hydroponic systems but needs a medium. Some suggest using Styrofoam, but we haven’t tried it yet.
Aeroponics: Possible but tricky for a root vegetable. The carrot will need extra and added support, such as a mesh stocking, to thrive in an aeroponics environment.
Water: Somewhat drought tolerant, water your carrots 1–2 times per week.
Nutrients: Till sandy soils with a bit of compost before sowing seeds.
Foliar: No foliar application necessary. You can try a diluted mixture of seaweed or kelp extract if you’d like.
Pruning: Not necessary. The entire plant of the carrot is grown to harvest. The leaves are necessary for photosynthesis and then, at the end, as a handle to pull the carrots from the ground. Weed diligently.
Mulching: Mulch to conserve moisture and reduce extreme fluctuation in soil temperatures. Be careful not to mulch too close to the base as carrots will push up as they mature.
Deficiency(s): Over-fertilization of nitrogen will cause forking of the carrot root. Do not apply compost during the growth period (only mix in before sowing).
Rotation: A 2 to 3 year rotation away from any members of the Apiaceae family is recommended.
Companions: Grows well with with Brussels sprouts, leeks, onions, rosemary, sage, peppers, radishes, chives, and cabbage.
Harvest: 2 or 3 months after sowing, carrots are mature and ready to be harvested. Look for their tops pushing up and out of the soil. Grab the entire leafy part of the plant and pull gently. If the top breaks, use a garden fork to loosen the soil around the carrot and pull it up.
Storage: Carrots do not typically ‘over-ripen,’ so leaving them in the ground for storage and pulling to use is perfectly OK. Harvested carrots should be separated from their green tops (which can be kept and propagated), washed, and then placed in a plastic bag or container for refrigeration.
Fun Fact: The carrot has been cultivated for hundreds of years from wild types and hybrids to produce the common carrots available on the market. They have been bred for sweetness, color (carrots were ubiquitously purple, white, or black) and increased fleshiness, as wild carrots once had a much more woody core. An urban legend originating in World War II says that because vitamin A increases vision, eating more carrots could increase night vision! Now that would be sweet.
Preserve: Canning, freezing, pickling, fermenting, and dehydrating are all reliable methods of preserving carrots.
Prepare: Carrots are delicious raw and are often added to salads or as an edible spoon for hummus. The β-carotene in carrots is actually increased by cooking or juicing as compared to eating raw. Carrots can be boiled, steamed, fried, stewed, sautéed, roasted, puréed, and more. Along with onions and celery, carrots are one of the primary ingredients for a mirepoix used to make many broths.
Nutritional: A carrot is primarily water: 88% to be exact. They are low in fat and starches and high in amino acids and vitamin A. Carrots contain natural anti-oxidants like β-carotene and trace minerals such as copper and molybdenum.
Medicinal: Used to treat intestinal parasites and digestive problems such as constipation and excessive flatulence.
Warnings: Over consumption of carrots or carrot juice can cause carotenosis, a benign but unattractive condition where the skin turns orange.
Have a friend who loves carrots? Try baking them this Vegan Carrot Cake with Macadamia Frosting. Or, check out this vegan recipe where chef Richard Blais substitutes carrots for braised lamb shank in a delicious Osso Buco.
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