Carrots – Your Choice of color – even Maroon or Orange
as recommended by Michael Vidrine
Winter ends and Spring begins in March and sometimes the weather this month cannot decide which season it wants to be. In the garden we will cautiously begin planting some of our warm season crops while still harvesting cool season crops. With the arrival of Spring many of our Winter grown cool season crops will be finishing up. This month usually brings on an abundance of carrots.
The garden carrot, Dacus carota subspecies sativus, has been developed from the wild plant native to Europe and Southwest Asia. There is evidence of carrot cultivation as early as 2000 to 3000 BC. Initially, carrots were cultivated primarily for their leaves and seeds. The carrot roots became more desirable as improved cultivars became more tender and sweet.Today carrot varieties come in a wide range of sizes from over a foot long to ball varieties only 2 to 3 inches long. Carrots also come in a variety of colors white, yellow, orange, red, purple and even black. Back in the 1980’s an A&M professor, Leonard Pike, developed a maroon carrot that he named BetaSweet.
Carrots are a biennial plant – normally producing seed in their second year of growth. In the garden, we grow carrots as an annual and harvest when the roots reach a mature size – usually within 2 to 3 months after planting depending on variety and weather conditions. Carrots are a cool season plant preferring temperatures in the 60’s to 70’s. They can be grown locally as a Spring crop but we most often grow them as a Fall and Winter crop. Planted periodically in the Fall and Winter seasons, carrots can yield a really long harvest.
To develop nice straight roots, carrots need a fairly deep loose soil like a sandy loam. They grow best in a slightly acid pH range of 6.3 to 6.8 however they have done OK for us in our higher pH soil that’s amended with lots of organic matter. Carrots want even moisture but won’t do well in waterlogged soil. Raised beds or rows help insure good drainage. The medium length carrots of either the Danvers or Nantes types usually do the best for us. The really long carrots like the Imperator types need almost ideal soils or the roots will tend to fork or otherwise go astray.
Carrots are usually direct seeded – they don’t transplant easily – and can be a bit difficult to plant because the seeds are so small and are the same color as the soil. Mixing carrot seeds with a handful of light colored sand and then broadcasting the mixture can help with an even distribution. Sprinkling seeds through a salt shaker also helps. Seeds can be bought pelletized – coated with a clay mixture – making placing individual seeds easier. Some providers also sell seed tape where seeds are glued individually and spaced properly on a paper tape. The whole tape is then planted. If you have crafty children available, they might enjoy making their own seed tape. Nimble little fingers and sharp eyes are a big help. Carrot seeds should be planted very shallow and kept evenly moist while they germinate. I usually plant the seeds directly on top of a well prepared bed and just pat the seeds firmly onto the soil. If they are kept moist, they will come up just fine. Carrots should be planted or thinned to 2 to 3 inch spacing. I often plant some radishes along with the carrots. The radishes come up quickly and mark where the carrots are going to be. The radishes will all be harvested before the carrots need the extra room. Because of the light frilly foliage, carrots don’t suppress weeds very well and good weed control, especially when the carrots are small, is necessary. If you don’t have a vegetable garden, carrots will look really nice in the landscape adding a bright green ferny looking area to our sometimes drab winter flowerbeds.
Like all of our vegetables, carrots can have pest and disease issues but when we grow them in the cool season, we rarely have any problems. Rotating carrots to different parts of the garden year-to year helps keep any problems at bay. Carrots are very cold tolerant and the tops can take temperatures in the 20’s with little to no damage and the carrot roots are even more robust. I don’t usually apply any freeze protection to carrots. Harvest carrots when they have reached their mature size. It may be necessary to loosen the soil around the first few to get them out without just breaking the tops off. Carrots can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks. Remove the tops 1/4 to 1/2 inch above the shoulder, wash, air dry and place the dried carrots in a freezer bag and then in the refrigerator hydrator section.
Carrots are a particularly good source of beta carotene, fiber, vitamin K1, potassium, and antioxidants. Raw carrots are great in slaws and other salads and also are a healthy substitute for chips with dips. Our grandchildren particularly like making carrot juice with a bit of added apple and ginger for flavor. Hearty soups and stews almost always include carrots. Carrots can be roasted, sautéed, fried, baked and pickled. Along with onions and celery, carrots make up the French classic mirepoix which forms the basis of many sauces. A bit of minced carrot tops can also be used like parsley, dill and other herbs to add flavor and color to a host of dishes. And lest we forget, carrots are the star ingredient in carrot cake – a dessert for which my wife is rightfully famous.
To add more variety to your root crops you may also want to try growing parsnips (same family as carrots) and salsify – black and white varieties. These vegetables also grow in the cool season and add new flavors and textures to the table. Good luck with your garden and Bon Appétit.
Brazos Valley Gardener, Orchardist, Apiarist and Instructor