The carrot, or daucus carota, is a member of the Umbelliferae or (parsley) family along with celery, fennel, cumin, and dill. Carrots were reportedly first grown in Rome in the third century, then in Afghanistan before being cultivated by the Dutch.
Early varieties were purple until the ‘modern’ orange version was cultivated in the Netherlands. There are dozens of carrot varieties worldwide in several widths, lengths, and colors. Color variations other than orange include white, yellow, reddish-hued, purple, and nearly black.
Types & Varieties
Carrots are classified based on both their length and shape: Imperator are long with thin shoulders and a tapered tip; Danvers are large and generally medium length; Nantes are also medium in length but with a rounded tip; and Chantenay are short and broad shouldered.
Popular cultivars by size include Orbit and Thumbelina for small, round carrots; Baby Spike, Littlefinger, Minicor, and Short ’n Sweet for baby carrots; Red-Cored and Royal for Chantenay; Half-Long and 126 for Danvers; Bolero, Ingot, Coreless, Scarlet, Sweetness, and Touchon for Nantes; and Avenger, Gold Pak, Legend, Orlando Gold, and Tendersweet for Imperator.
References: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, University of Illinois Extension, Washington State University Extension.
Carrots are a biennial crop with an edible taproot in the first year. Frost tolerant, carrots are often one of the first crops planted in the spring. Plants are direct seeded into moderately acidic sandy loam with adequate moisture retention. Windbreaks are recommended if soil is at risk of blowing and damaging seedlings.
If the soil forms a crust after rains, carrots may have trouble breaking through. Planting with radishes can alleviate this problem. It is also advised to thoroughly plow soil for proper taproot development.
Carrots grow best in warm, moist conditions. To retain moisture and warmth, carrots are sometimes covered with polyethylene film before germination. Raised beds can facilitate drainage. During the summer, shade may be necessary to prevent seedlings from burning.
Carrots are fairly resilient; some varieties can be harvested after the first frost before the ground freezes solid. Crops can be harvested by hand or mechanically.
Tops should be removed completely to prevent disease and respiration, which can lead to reduced quality. Bunched carrots (with tops) are more perishable than topless carrots.