The cultivated carrot is a hardy, herbaceous, biennial of European and Asian origin. It is grown for its crisp, sweet, tasty tap roots. Often called Daucus carota ssp. sativus, it is a biennial but rarely gets the chance to flower because its roots are harvested in the first season. If allowed to flower, it has large, pretty, lacy, white umbrella-shaped blooms that appear in summer.
Eastern and western cultures have cultivated carrot roots for thousands of years. There are many cultivars, old and new, which may produce orange, orange-red, purple, yellow or white carrots. These most often appear as long, tapered taproots but short, round-rooted selections, like the popular ‘Thumbelina’ are also available.
Carrots grow best if cultivated in deep, rich, friable loamy soil and full sun. They are easy to grow if given the right growing conditions and can be stored for long periods of time. Generally, they require 50 to 75 days to harvest.
The wild form, Queen Anne’s lace, was introduced from Europe into Colonial America very early on and has become a common weed along roadsides, in fields and fallow areas. This unrefined counterpart to the cultivated carrot develops a neat rosette of fine, dissected, medium green leaves in the first year. In the second, it puts forth tall, airy stems topped with lacy white, umbel-shaped flowers. These appear in summer and attract many insect pollinators, like bees and butterflies, and are ideal for cutting.
Queen Anne’s lace prefers sunny locations and almost any type of soil as long as it is well-drained. Though tough and resilient, it is susceptible to carrot rust fly, wireworms and aphids. This weedy wildflower is pretty despite the fact it vigorously self sows. It may be planted in mixed borders and butterfly gardens.
Winchester Gardens generally stocks this item.
Annual – Edible
Select a site with full sun and deep, well-drained soil. Prepare the garden bed by using a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost.
To prolong the harvest, stagger plantings at three-week intervals as the soil temperatures rise. Work the carrot seedbed well with a tiller or hoe to break up any soil clumps. Remove all rocks and stones. Sprinkle a thin layer of wood ashes over the seedbed to add potassium to the soil for sweeter carrots. Work the ashes into the top 4 inches of the bed. Then rake the beds smooth. Make furrows 1/4 inch deep, spaced 4 inches apart. Put a 1/4 inch layer of sifted compost or peat moss in the bottom of each furrow and sow the seeds, about 3 per inch, on top. Cover with a 1/2 inch layer of the same material. Lightly mulch the seedbed to retain moisture and prevent soil crusting.
Thin carrots to 3 inches apart. Weed carefully and cultivate lightly near the plants. Add mulch about six weeks after sowing to prevent exposing the roots to the sun, which gives them a bitter taste. Water plants during the summer if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week. Carrots are rarely bothered by pests. Contact your local county extension office for controls of common carrot pests, such as wireworms.
Begin pulling carrots as soon as they develop full color. This thinning process allows the remaining carrots to grow larger without becoming misshapen. For winter storage, wait to harvest until after the tops have been exposed to several frosts. The cold will increase their sweetness. You can also overwinter carrots in the ground by mulching them heavily with straw. Dig them throughout winter or in early spring before new growth starts.
Bean, lettuce, onion, pea, pepper, radish, tomato. Chives improve growth and flavor. Rosemary and sage deter carrot fly.