Humans have long been known to grow carrots for health. The carrot originated in Asia over 5 thousand years ago and spread through the trade routes to become popular in thirteenth-century Europe. Their early uses included; treatment for stomach and liver problems, healing wounds, and aphrodisiacs.
Carrots were originally purple, yellow, or white and, tracing their development through art history, were seen to evolve over the centuries to the present orange color. The Dutch are said to have bred the orange carrot to match their national colors. The orange roots were introduced into North America in the early 17th century with some varieties morphing into a wild weed form known as Queen Anne’s Lace.
One of the world’s most recognizable carrot lovers is the cartoon character, Bugs Bunny, although his creator and voice, Mel Blanc, did not like carrots!
How to Grow Carrots for Health
Sow seeds two or three weeks before the last frost date as soon as the soil can be worked. Cultivate to14 inches, removing stones or other obstructions, and work in 5-10-5 fertilizer a week before sowing at a rate of 5 lbs per 100 square feet.
The ideal planting environments are raised beds with 12-18 inches of soil chiefly composed of light soil, peat moss, and organic matter.
Dig ½ “ furrows and plant seeds every ½ inch with rows 12 inches apart. Carefully mark the area with string as there may be no signs of life for 3 weeks. Consider planting quick germinating radish seeds mixed with carrot seed as radishes will sprout first marking the rows and helping identify weeds. Do not permit seeds to dry out or they will never develop.
Thin when seedlings reach 2 inches high with tweezers or mini pruning shears to 1-inch intervals and 2-inch intervals when seedlings are 6 inches high.
A second crop can be sown eight weeks after the first provided the new row is at least 6 inches from the first crop.
Long slender carrots need soft, deep, smooth soil so it may be practical to plant smaller or half-long varieties, particularly if you have heavy soil. Taller ones could be cultivated in 18 to 24-inch planters containing a rich soil/compost mix.
Carrots prefer full sun, but will tolerate part shade, and should be fed with a 5-10-5 fertilizer when they are 3 and 6 inches tall. Weed regularly but avoid deep cultivating to protect developing roots. Cover any exposed root tops with soil to prevent their greening.
Keep the planting area damp during the first 2 months, watering heavily only if the soil dries out as overwatering encourages root cracking.
Carrots are at full maturity 12-16 weeks after sowing- usually around the first two weeks of June- when you will also be thinning the second crop. Sow the third crop in June in the area of your first harvest.
Harvest when soil is moist so as not to snap the roots. Cut leaves one inch from the crown and, if storing, pack them in boxes with moist sand in a cool location.
Pests and diseases
Carrot root flies tunnel into tops of carrots and out through the root. Avoid planting in areas that had clover, grass, pasture, or grassy weed. Control using floating row cover or mask the carrot scent by occasionally sprinkling coffee grounds on leaves and stems.
Aster Yellow is a plant disease that turns carrot leaves a combination of yellow and reddish-purple, stunts and deforms root growth, and causes roots to be bitter. This is a bacterial disease best controlled by; moving and destroying infected plants, keeping the area weed-free, and using a floating row cover to curb leafhoppers, the primary transmitters.
Cultivars and Varieties
There are six major cultivars; Amsterdam(A), Chantenay(C), Danvers(D), Imperator(I), Nantes(N), and Paris Market(PM), each with numerous varieties. Here are a few favourites:
Chantenay Red (70 days), medium-sized 6-inch variety. Smooth orange-scarlet roots and an excellent choice for heavier soils.
Purple Haze (I) (70 days), unique 12-inch carrot with the purple exterior colour, and an orange core. It has a mild taste with the purple color dissolving when cooked.
Parmex (N) (50 days), a popular two-inch early carrot that can be planted in shallow soils and replanted for two more crops.
Sweet Baby Jane (N) (48 days), early 3 inch orange with blunt tips and sweet flavor.
Kinbi (NC) (75 days), a beautiful yellow carrot 7 inches long and very thick cylindrical shape.
Cellobunch (N) (61days) are disease tolerant early 10-inch variety that can thrive in muddy soils. Good quality color and taste and gives an opportunity for a second planting.
Atomic Red (65 days) a new bright red variety high in lycopene with foot-long roots and intensive taste.
So this year why not grow carrots for health? A multicolored cooked or raw selection is a good healthy choice to grace any dinner plate.
Other articles on growing vegetables