Rabbits love them (at least in cartoons), and so do we. Carrots are one of the most popular vegetables in the United States. On average, Americans eat around 8 pounds of fresh carrots a person (with an additional 1.4 pounds of frozen carrots). Not only are carrots a great snack, they’re also relatively easy to grow in the home garden.
While we think of carrots as bright orange roots, they can actually be found in a variety of other colors like yellow, red, white, and purple. Carrots are descendants of wild carrot (Daucus carota), or Queen Anne’s lace. It is believed they originated in Central Asia, where they were first grown for their leaves and seeds. While the roots of Queen Anne’s lace are white, it is believed the first domesticated carrot roots were purple and yellow (900 CE). Orange carrots didn’t show up until the late 1400s, eventually becoming the color we associate with carrots.
Carrots are classified by the shape and length of the root. There are five primary types:
- Imperator types are the main type of commercial carrots. They have long (8-10”), slender roots that have a tapered tip.
- Chantenay short to mid-length (4.5-5.5”) with large tops and a conical shape. They are better for shallow, heavy soils than long, skinny Imperator types.
- Danvers types are conical, thick carrots that can be up to 7 inches long.
- Nantes types are cylindrical with a blunt tip, and 6 to 7 inches long. These carrots have excellent flavor and quality and are a favorite of home gardeners.
- Miniature/Oxheart/Paris Market types have short, stocky roots that are only 2 to 3 inches long. These are good types for heavy, clay soils, or container gardening.
Carrots are biennials. This means it takes two years to complete their life cycle. During their first year, they produce their large thick root, then the following year they flower and set seed (they will occasionally flower in their first year). Since we are typically growing carrots for their roots, we treat them as annuals.
Carrots are a cool-season crop that can be direct seeded from spring through summer. They grow best in deep, loose, well-draining soils. If you plan on growing carrots in-ground, spend some time prepping your soil. Depending on the type of carrot you choose, the soil may need to be broken up and loosened up to 8 or 9 inches deep. While prepping the soil for planting carrots remove as many obstructions, such as rocks, soil clods, or other debris. If these are present in the soil, it can lead to misshapen (forked, twisted, etc.) carrots. If doing this much prep work seems daunting, consider growing them in raised beds, or choose types with shorter roots.
Carrot seeds should be planted ¼ to ½ inch deep for early plantings and can be planted ½ to ¾ inch deep when planted during the summer (when the soil is warmer and dryer). Rows should be 12 to 18 inches apart. Carrots are notoriously slow to germinate, often taking up to three weeks, and often don’t germinate uniformly (germinate at different times). Because of this, people will often plant radish seeds in with their carrots to mark the rows (radishes germinate quickly). Carrot seedlings also have difficulty breaking through soils that have crusted. Therefore, keep the soil moist until the seedlings are at least 1 inch tall.
Once carrots germinate and are about two inches tall, they should be thinned, so they are about two inches apart. Just like thinning out seedlings you start indoors, it’s best to cut rather than pull the plants you wish to remove to avoid disturbing the plants you want to keep. Carrots require consistent, uniform moisture while they are growing to have proper root development (that is why we grow them after all), meaning you’ll need to water them when it becomes dry. When it gets close to harvest time, back off on watering because too much moister may cause the roots to crack.
You can begin to harvest carrots when their roots are at least ½” in diameter. Often carrot tops will break when being pulled while trying to harvest, so it may be beneficial to loosen the soil around carrots prior to pulling or dig them. Carrots planted in the late summer and fall can be covered with mulch and harvested until the ground freezes solid.
Carrots are relatively pest free. Weeds should be controlled, especially when the plants are young. In addition to misshapen roots, one common issue people have when growing carrots is the tops of their carrots (the root) turning green. These green areas of the carrot are distasteful. This is caused when the top of the root is exposed to sunlight; they’re basically sunburned. The tops can be exposed after heavy rain, or when the roots begin to grow and swell. To avoid this, soil can be pulled up over the tops of the roots if they are exposed.
If you've ever wondered how baby carrots are made, here is a video from Western Growers on the process.
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