Carrots supply nearly 14 percent of the Vitamin A in American diets along with fiber, vitamin B1, B2 and C. Carrots are a cool season crop that is most productive in our climate when seeded in the garden in mid spring. Seeding times may range from late March to mid April.
Although we think of carrots as an orange vegetable, carrots were not always orange. Probably the first carrots that were picked over 2,000 years ago were purple. In Medieval Europe purple, white and yellow carrots existed. It was not until about the 17th century that orange varieties were developed in Holland. Since that time orange carrots became popular with almost the total exclusion of other colors. Orange carrots tasted better and maintained a better color through cooking.
Carrots may no longer come in different colors, but they are available in different shapes. The shapes used may depend on climate and the types of soils available where they are to be grown. If a soil is sandy and fairly loose, the long varieties are usually grown. When soils are heavier clay, the short blunt types are more suitable. When soils are heavy or rocky, even these varieties may tend to be forked or twisted. For gardeners wanting to grow carrots without suitable soils, raised beds will work well. In these, a soil mix with some sand and liberal amounts of organic matter, in addition to existing soil, can be very productive. Carrots also benefit from the perfect drainage of raised beds.
Vegetable and Fruit Gardening: How to Grow Carrots
Carrots should be planted in the spring, before the last frost date, and they should be placed in ground that is loose and deep
Some carrot varieties suitable to our climate and soils are those known as stump-root varieties. A few of these types include Nantes Coreless and Red Cored Chantenay. A-Plus Hybrid is another good variety with longer roots. Recently, baby carrots have gained popularity. These carrots are grown for roots that may range from 3 to 4 inches long and about 1/2 inch in diameter. Some varieties of this type that might be used are Little Finger, Sucram and Baby spike. Round carrots are even newer and provide another shape more suitable for heavy soils which long-rooted carrot varieties cannot penetrate well. Thumbelina is the most suitable of the round types for home gardens. Gardeners often are impressed by size. Those wanting to grow the largest carrots may want to try an Oriental carrot variety called Kuroda. Roots of this variety can weigh up to about one pound. It needs deep loose soil for best development, so raised beds can be very helpful. It is also one of the most heat tolerant carrots for our area which is necessary to develop the larger size.
Carrots are not suited to transplanting and must be seeded directly into the garden. Sow seeds thinly at about a depth of 1/8th inch. Carrot seeds are slow to germinate. Soil must remain moist during the germination period. Since seedlings are small and rows hard to see, some gardeners mix a few radish seeds with the carrot seed. The radishes germinate quickly and mark the row. Carrot plants in the row should be thinned to allow one to two inches between plants. Gardeners often get small roots because they do not thin adequately. Mulches along the row help hide the tops of the roots as they may push upward. If tops become green, they will develop a slightly bitter taste. One of the most critical points for growing carrots is good early season weed control. Since the seeds are slow to germinate, most weed seeds germinate faster and can shade them out. The radishes may do the same if they are not removed promptly as the carrots become established and easily visible.
Carrots need to be planted early, but not too early. They can tolerate frosts and temperatures down to about 25 degrees. Below 25 degrees, some damage may result and below 20 degrees, they will usually be killed or so severely damaged that the crop will be lost or very poor. Seeds germinate poorly when soil temperatures are less than 50 degrees. The orange color of the roots develops best when soil temperatures are between 60 and 70 degrees. Carrots may be harvested anytime after they have developed a good color and roots are large enough to handle easily.