by SCMG Susan Shaw
Carrots (Daucus carota) are a cool-weather vegetable, with origins probably in
Afghanistan. Carrots appeared in Europe around the 12th century and were likely in rainbow colors of reds, yellows and oranges. The culinary cousins of carrots include celery, parsley, parsnip, fennel, dill, and cumin to name a few…all in the Apiaceae family.
In Sonoma County, seeds can be sown from March to September and maturity is 70-90 days. September is a great time to plant carrots in your fall and winter food garden. A great benefit to planting now is that there are less pest issues in the fall. Varieties depend on your soil and growing conditions; plant long market varieties only if you can give them 12 inches of fine-textured soil. For shallower soil conditions, plant shorter varieties. Short or finger varieties will grow easily in containers. A few recommended varieties include:
- Short: ‘Minipak,’ ‘Tiny Sweet,’ ‘Little Finger,’ round ‘Thumbelina”
- Medium/Half-long: ‘Danvers,’ ‘Gold King,’ ‘Royal Chantenay,’ ‘Nantes,’ ‘Scarlet Nantes,’ ‘Nelson,’ ‘Bolero,’ ‘Yaya,’
- Standard/Long: ‘Imperator,’ ‘Envy,’ ‘Long Tapered,’ ‘Sunrise,’ ‘Cheyenne’
Carrots also come in colors other than orange – ‘Purple Haze,’ ‘White Satin’ and ‘Red Samurai,’ for example. Companion plants for carrots include English peas, lettuce, the onion family, sage and tomato.
Grow carrots in full sun and in loose, well-worked soil. Ideal soil for carrots is fine textured and free of clods and stones; work in compost to lighten and enrich the soil. To plant, sow carrots lightly in rows at least one foot apart and cover seed with no more than a half-inch of soil. Carrot seeds are tiny. One trick used by many gardeners to not overplant small seeds is to mix seed with sand or cornmeal…when you grab a pinch to sprinkle, it spreads out the seeds dropped into the ground. Be patient - carrots are very slow to germinate and can take up to 14 days to sprout. Keep soil moist during this period and don’t let the soil crust over. A row cover will help with keeping the soil moist during the germination time. For successive plantings, sow seeds when the previous planting is up and growing.
When carrot tops are 1-2 inches tall, thin plants to 2 inches apart. This is very
important for straight and not deformed carrots. Carrots like even soil moisture; consistent water is crucial for good growth and color. Cover the shoulders of the young carrots with extra soil or mulch to prevent ‘bitter’ green shoulders. Avoid using high-nitrogen fertilizers which will only encourage lush green tops.
Lift one or two carrots to check the size when you are ready to harvest – and
Carrots are low in calories and high in Vitamin A. They can be eaten raw or cooked...steamed, boiled, roasted or sautéed. If you grow purple varieties, roast them so they don’t lose their purple color…as will happen if boiled. Raw carrots are a great lunch-box snack for your children. Carrots can be dipped or added to fresh salads, and young tops can be used to flavor soups. Enjoy!