(Daucus carota subsp. sativus)
Carrots are a biennial vegetable with a large, starchy taproot. Most often, the taproot is orange, though yellow, white, and purple varieties also exists. In its first year, the carrot grows a rosette of pinnately compound leaves, similar in shape to parsley or cilantro (to which it is related), that are arranged in a spiral around the central stem. It is during this first year that the carrot develops its iconic taproot, which is what is usually harvested as a vegetable. If left in the ground, the carrot will loose its foliage and go dormant during the winter. The following spring, it will use the energy stored in the taproot to send up a taller stem which will produce the flowering umbel. The umbel is a branching cluster of flowers that looks like a little umbrella. Flowers are small and white to yellow with five petals. Each flower produces two seeds, which vary in size and are somewhat long and round with ribs running the length.
Carrots grow best in somewhat loose soil with little to no large stones. While heavier or stoney soils may cause carrots to fork, this should not affect taste, and may be useful for breaking up the soil. Carrots are not heavy feeders, and in a crop rotation should be planted after heavy feeders like cabbage and other brassicas . Carrots will grow in partial to heavy shade, but the size of the taproot will be largest in full sun.
Carrots grown from seed and grown as an annual root crop are usually ready between 90 and 120 days, although they can be harvested at any earlier point during development with reduced size. Sow from early spring to mid-summer for late spring to early winter harvests. Row covers and cold frames can allow you to start carrots about two to three weeks earlier in the season, but transplanting from indoors is not advised, as it could damage the fragile taproot. Carrots can be sowed directly in the ground or in pots, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch below the soil line.
Companion planting carrots with fragrant alliums like leeks, garlic, or onions can help protect from carrot fly maggots, as can fragrant herbs like rosemary and sage. Chamomile, lettuce, tomatoes, and radishes also make good companion plants, and marigolds can help protect against harmful soil nematodes [110 – 112].
Once harvested, carrots can be kept in the refrigerator for a month or two. For long-term storage, cut the foliage of the unwashed carrots back about 1 inch above the root and place upright in a crate with some moist soil in a cool, dark place like a root cellar. Check out a good video on root storage from our partners at Edible Acres here. Alternately, carrots can be pickled for long-term storage.
Carrots can also be planted from tops of carrots bought at a local farmers market or grocery store. Simply cut off the top 1-2 inches of the carrot and bury it about an inch below the soil line. Within a week, you should see lots of new foliage growing. It is important to note that carrots grown by this method will not produce a new taproot, but will produce tasty foliage and seeds for planting out next year’s crop.
Carrots are a delicious vegetable that is high in vitamins and minerals. It has a wide range of culinary uses from soups to salads to stir fries and meat dishes. It also makes a great snack by itself or with a little hummus. Carrot leaves have lots of flavour and can be used as a potherb, salad green, or to season other dishes. Carrot seeds also have an interesting flavour, somewhere between cumin, fennel, and celery seed.
Carrots, if left to overwinter and go flower, can attract a range of highly beneficial predatory insects and pollinators that help to manage pest populations elsewhere in the garden.
It may also be possible to use carrots to break up compacted and depleted soils in a much less destructive manner than tilling, though more trials are needed on this concept (let us know if it works for you!)