Growing Carrots: Carrot Varieties, Soil Conditions and Harvest Times

Growing carrots is enjoyable and each carrot variety packs a nutritious, flavorful punch.

| April/May 2006

Carrots are such a popular vegetable that you probably have some chilling in your refrigerator right now — but have you tried growing them in your garden? Growing carrots is easy as long as you understand what the plants need; once you do, you’ll have the pleasure of eating better-tasting carrots than you can buy at the supermarket. Some of the highest-quality carrots have delicate tops and roots that make them unsuitable for mechanical harvesting and shipping. Plus, they’re so easy to store that you can eat homegrown carrots year-round.

Carrot Varieties

One of your first decisions will be which varieties to plant, and choosing is an adventure in itself. Carrots come in a range of shapes and sizes, and you can try a variety of colors: orange, yellow, white, red or purple.

There are strong links between the color of carrots and their nutritional content. Five hundred years ago, most carrots were white. Sixteenth-century Dutch breeders created the orange version, quadrupling the vegetable’s beta carotene, which the human body converts to vitamin A. More recently, carrot breeders have increased lycopene content, which is tied to a red root color. Like the lycopene compounds in ‘Nutri-Red’ and other red carrots, the anthocyanin pigments in ‘Dragon,’‘Purple Haze’ and other purple carrots do double duty as antioxidants, which help prevent cancer and slow the effects of aging. White ‘Kuttiger’ and yellow ‘Yellowstone’ carrots look stunning when combined with orange, red or purple carrots, but nutritionally they rank far below their more colorful counterparts.

Light-colored carrots tend to have a crisp, juicy texture, whereas red carrots taste slightly starchy. Purple carrots are often surprisingly spicy, and red and purple carrots both contain fewer natural sugars than orange carrots, which are the second sweetest of all vegetables, surpassed only by beets.

Many gardeners are learning about these flavor differences firsthand. “There is definitely a trend toward colorful carrots,” says Josh Kirschenbaum, product developer at Territorial Seed Co. in Cottage Grove, Ore. “They look beautiful on a plate, and you get nutritional variation as well.”

John Navazio, the director of research and education at Organic Seed Alliance, enjoys using white carrots in soups and stews because “they are stronger-tasting and impart a wonderful, spicy, salsify-like flavor.” Navazio — who holds a doctorate in plant breeding and genetics — regards ‘Red Core Chantenay’ as one of his favorites, because it is a “full-flavored variety with true carrot flavor, or a balance of sweet and savory.” Navazio also recommends ‘Scarlet Nantes,’ a “good, sweet carrot with lots of character and enough flavor complexity to taste like a carrot,” and he thinks the best seed stock for these varieties is from Wood Prairie Farm.

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