The carrot (Daucuscarota subsp. sativus) is a root vegetable, usually orange in colour, though purple, black, red, white, and yellow cultivars exist. The most commonly eaten part of the plant is the taproot, although the greens are sometimes eaten as well. The domestic carrot has been selectively bred for its greatly enlarged, more palatable, less woody-textured taproot.
The carrot is a biennial plant in the umbellifer family Apiaceae. At first, it grows a rosette of leaves while building up the enlarged taproot. Fast-growing cultivars mature within three months (90 days) of sowing the seed, while slower-maturing cultivars are harvested four months later (120 days).
The roots contain high quantities of alpha- and beta-carotene, and are a good source of vitamin K and vitamin B6.
Carrots are 88% water, 4.7% sugar, 0.9% protein, 2.8% dietary fiber, 1% ash and 0.2% fat. Carrot dietary fiber comprises mostly cellulose, with smaller proportions of hemicellulose, lignin and starch. Free sugars in carrot include sucrose, glucose and fructose.
Among other cultivars, the common ones are:
Chantenay – these are shorter than other types, are stocky, taper to a rounded tip, and have a rich, sweet flavor that are good for storage. They are coarser in texture than other carrot types.
Danvers – Shorter than the Imperator varieties, with a thick-rooted cylindrical shape, widely used in processing, good for juicing, and stores well. Performs well in heavy, clay soil.
Imperator – Have long, tapered roots with stocky shoulders and strong tops and a slightly fibrous texture. Stores well. This is the most common type found in grocery stores. Prefers deep, sandy soil.
Nantes – Blunt tips, with straight, cylindrical roots 5 to 7 inches long that are sweeter than most other types that are delicious when eaten raw. Prefers loose soil.
Carrots do best in fertile sandy loam soil, but will grow well under most conditions if you choose the appropriate variety. For heavy, compact soils, choose the tapered carrots that can work their way into soils like the Chantenays or Danvers types. A little potassium incorporated into the soil promotes solid, sweet carrots.
The ideal soil temperature for seed germination is 55-75°F. You’ll get the highest rate of germination from seeds sown in raised beds, with a sandy loam soli free of stones and debris. The Imperator type carrots should only be grown in raised beds that are at least 10-12” in depth.
- Turn the soil 12 inches deep if you are growing a long variety of carrots. For shorter varieties, turn the soil approximately 6 to 8 inches deep, depending on the mature length of the carrots. This length is usually listed on the seed packet.
- Remove any stones, debris and clumps of soil that won‘t break up. If you want long, straight carrots, they grow best in fine soil. Mix approximately 25 percent organic matter into the soil. Compost works well. Avoid manure, which is high in nitrogen and produces leafy growth at the expense of root development.
- Spread NPK 10-10-10 fertilizer across the rows where the seeds are to be planted. Use 1 cup for every 10 feet, spacing rows 1 to 2 feet apart. Incorporate the fertilizer about 4 inches deep into the soil.
- Drag a stick across the soil, creating a line that is 1/2 inch deep. Sow the seeds, about 20 per linear foot. Then, cover the seeds lightly with soil.
- Water the planted seeds with 1/2 inch of water. Keep the soil moist, and the carrots will sprout in two to three weeks. As the carrots begin to grow, thin out the plants so that they have enough space to grow straight.
Carrot Weevil and carrot rust fly are common pests. Place a floating row cover over the seedlings to help provide some control. You could also delay sowing seeds until June to avoid the first wave of flies, as well as sowing carrots seeds thinly, as the carrot rust flies are attracted to the smell of bruised carrot foliage.
Misshapen Roots – In general, carrots do not grow well in heavy soils. The long-rooted varieties such as the Imperator types may be twisted, stunted or forked when grown in this type of soil, or when they touch clumps or rocks. If you have a heavy soil, mix in compost to loosen the soil or grow the shorter varieties, such as Danvers types.
Greenish Shoulders – When the tops of the carrots are exposed to sunlight, that exposed top will often turn green. To prevent this from happening, cover the tops of the carrots with additional compost or soil.
Carrots are harvested when their appropriate color, size, and flavor has developed. Push a little soil away from the tops and you’ll be able to see about how big or little the carrots are. Young carrots, also called baby carrots, are also very delicious at this stage. They are harvested by being pulled.
Carrots can be stored for several months in the refrigerator or over winter in a moist, cool place. For long term storage, unwashed carrots can be placed in a bucket between layers of sand, a 50/50 mix of sand and wood shavings, or in soil. A temperature range of 32 to 40 °F (0 to 5 °C) is best.