Carrot is a hardy, cool-season biennial that is grown for the thickened root it produces in its first growing season. Although carrots can endure summer heat in many areas, they grow best when planted in early spring. Midsummer plantings, that mature quickly in cool fall weather, produce tender, sweet "baby" carrots that are much prized. Carrots are eaten both raw and cooked and they can be stored for winter use. They are rich in carotene (the source of vitamin A) and high in fiber and sugar content.
When To Plant
Carrots are usually planted with other frost tolerant vegetables as soon as the soil mellows in the spring. They may be planted earlier in gardens with sandy soil. The soil should be plowed and prepared to a depth of 8 to 9 inches to allow full development of the carrot roots and the seedbed should be worked uniformly to break up clumps and clods that prevent penetration of the roots. Varieties with extremely long roots (Imperator and Tendersweet) usually are recommended only for home gardens with deep, sandy soil. Excess organic debris worked into the soil just before planting also may affect root penetration, causing forked and twisted roots.
Spacing & Depth
Plant seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep (no more than two or three seeds per inch) in early spring. Later sowings may be planted 1/2 to 3/4 inch deep when the soil is dryer and warmer. Space rows 12 to 18 inches apart. A single seed planted every 6 to 12 inches can mark the row. Germination requires as long as two weeks and the seedlings may not emerge uniformly. If heavy rains occur after sowing, packing the soil surface, no seedlings may emerge. Thin the seedlings when they are about one inch tall to no more than three seedlings per inch for finger carrots; one or two seedlings per inch for carrots that will be harvested young; and one seedling per 1 to 2 inches for larger varieties like Danvers and Chantenay that will be allowed to develop to full size and be harvested mature for canning or freezing.
Carrots germinate best in warm, moist soil. Covering the row with clear polyethylene film warms the soil and conserves moisture. Remove the film immediately when seedlings appear. To assure germination of successive plantings during the late spring and summer months, it may be necessary to supply water by sprinkling. In the heat of summer, some shade may be necessary to keep the tiny seedlings from burning off at the soil line. Young carrot seedlings are weak and grow slowly. It is essential to keep weeds under control for the first few weeks. Cultivate shallowly with a knife blade cultivator or hoe. Deep cultivation may injure the roots.
Carrots can be harvested or "pulled" when the roots are at least 1/2 inch in diameter. Under usual conditions, carrot tops may not be strong enough to withstand actually being pulled from the ground and digging helps to remove the roots without damage. Finger carrots are usually ready to harvest within 50 to 60 days. Other varieties should be allowed to grow until they have reached a diameter of at least 3/4 inch (about 60 to 70 days after planting). They then may be harvested over a 3 to 4 week period. Summer planted carrots may be left in the ground until a killing frost. Some gardeners place a straw mulch over the row so that carrots can be harvested until the ground freezes solid. In many areas, a heavy mulch allows harvest of carrot roots throughout the winter. For carrots to be stored, cut off the tops one inch above the root and place in storage at 32°F with high humidity. Carrots may be placed in a refrigerator, buried in lightly moist sand in an underground cellar or stored in the garden in a pit insulated with straw. Under proper storage conditions, carrots keep 4 to 6 months.
Questions & Answers
Q. What causes my carrots to turn green on the crown (top) of the root?
A. This condition is called "sunburning." It causes an off flavor and dark green pieces in the cooked product. Cut away the green portion and use the rest of the root. When the tops are healthy, sunburning can be avoided by pulling a small amount of loose soil up to the row when the roots are swelling (about 40 to 50 days after planting).
Q. Why are my carrots misshapen, with forked and twisted roots?
A. Forking may result from attacks of root-knot nematodes, from stones, from deep and close cultivation or (more frequently) from planting in a soil that was poorly prepared. Twisting and intertwining result from seeding too thickly and inadequate thinning of seedlings.
Q. What causes my carrots to have fine hairy roots, poor color and a bitter taste?
A. These conditions are caused by a viral disease known as "aster yellows."
Selection & Storage
Carrots can be harvested at various stages of development. Carrot thinnings can be added to fresh salads and eaten green tops and all. "Thinnings" are immature carrots pulled from overcrowded rows to make room for others to grow. Finger-size carrots may be dwarf carrots or immature average ones. They can be very tender and sweet. Harvest carrots before they are over mature, about 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Hugh overgrown carrots are less tasty, and they may have a tough woody core which may need to be removed. Store carrots with the green tops trimmed. Although the tops are edible, during storage this greenery robs the carrot of moisture and nutritional value. Carrots will keep for several weeks in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator in perforated plastic bags. If you plan to use the green tops in soups and stews, store them separately, as they will only keep for a few days.
Nutritional Value & Health Benefits
As the name implies, carrots are brimming with beta carotene. Beta carotene is a substance that is converted to Vitamin A in the human body. A 1/2 cup serving of cooked carrots contains four times the recommended daily intake of Vitamin A in the form of protective beta carotene. Beta carotene is also a powerful antioxidant effective in fighting against some forms of cancer, especially lung cancer. Current research suggests that it may also protect against stroke, and heart disease. Research also shows that the beta carotene in vegetables supplies this protection, not vitamin supplements. So eat your carrots.
Nutrition Facts (1/2 cup cooked)
Protein .86 grams
Carbohydrates 8.19 grams
Dietary Fiber 2 grams
Calcium 24.18 mg
Iron .47 mg
Vitamin A 19,152 IU
Vitamin C 1.79
Preparation & Serving
Use a vegetable brush to remove every speck of soil from carrots. Peel if desired. Raw carrots are naturally sweet, but lightly cooked carrots are even sweeter. Carrots are one of those vegetables that loses very little nutritional value during cooking. In fact, some nutrients in slightly cooked carrots are more available to the body than raw carrots. Cooking actually breaks down the tough cellular wall of carrots making some nutrients more useable to the body. Carrots can be shredded, chopped, juiced or cooked whole. They are delicious roasted, boiled, steamed, stir-fried, grilled, and they team up beautifully with almost any vegetable companion. Carrots boost the nutritional value of soups, stews, salads and are indispensable in the stockpot.
Canned carrots must be processed in a pressure canner. Do not can in a water bath canner. To can carrots safely follow these simple instructions;
1. Select small carrots, preferably 1 to 1 1/4 inch in diameter. Large carrots are often too fibrous. Wash, peel and rewash carrots. Slice or dice.
2. Hot Pack -- Cover carrots with water and bring to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes. Pack into hot jars, leaving 1-inch head space. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt to pints; 1 teaspoon to quarts, if desired.
3.Fill jars to 1 inch from top with boiling water.
4. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims. Adjust two piece lids and process.
5. Process in a Dial Gauge Pressure Canner at 11 pounds pressure or in a Weighted Gauge Pressure Canner at 10 pounds pressure: pints for 25 minutes and quarts for 30 minutes.
To Freeze Carrots they must be blanched. Blanching (scalding vegetables in boiling water or steam for a short time) is a must for almost all vegetables to be frozen.
Blanching slows or stops enzyme action which can cause loss of flavor, color and texture.
1. Select young, tender, medium length carrots. Remove tops, wash and peel.
2. Leave small carrots whole. Cut others into thin slices, 1/4-inch cubes or lengthwise strips.
3. Water blanch small whole carrots for 5 minutes, diced or sliced 2 minutes and lengthwise strips 2 minutes.
4. Cool promptly in ice water for 5 minutes, drain and package leaving 1/2- inch head space. Seal in zip closure freezer bags and freeze.
The flavor of cooked carrots is enhanced by herbs. Use spearmint, marjoram, a small bay leaf, thyme, grated ginger root, chopped chives, dill or parsley.
To sweeten carrots, use honey, maple syrup or a sprinkle of sugar.
Braised Carrots with Fresh Herbs
For this recipe, cut carrots into logs 2 to 3 inches in length. Use small tapering carrots, cut the tapering end off then cut the upper portion in half or quarters so that all of the pieces are about the same size in diameter. If using store-bought carrots, buy carrots with bright green tops; this is an indication of freshness. 1 pound small carrots or carrot logs 1 cup canned or fresh beef broth 1 teaspoon honey 1 tablespoon butter or margarine 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped (or use one tablespoon dried)
1. Wash, scrub and peel carrots. Leave whole or cut into logs.
2. In a medium saucepan, bring beef broth to a boil, add carrots, honey, butter and parsley. Cover and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes.
3. Remove carrots to a warm plate and reduce liquid to a light glaze by continuing to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes longer. Return carrots to pan and toss in the thickened liquid. Serves 4.
This dish can be used as a garnish, a salad or snack. 1 pound carrots 2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard or other grainy mustard 1/4 cup olive oil 1 green onions, chopped (include green top) 1 tablespoon chopped parsley 1 clove garlic, crushed Salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Scrub and peel carrots. Julienne, log or slice.
2. Blanch carrots in 1quart boiling water for 3-4 minutes or until barely tender. Drain.
3. In a small bowl, stir together the lemon juice and mustard.
4. Using a fork or small whisk, beat in olive oil a little at a time. Add onions, parsley and garlic.
5. Pour over warm carrots. Taste, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Refrigerate 6 to 8 hours or overnight. Makes 3 cups.