CARROTS

orange carrots lying on wooden table

Acknowledgement: the cover photo used was taken by Mali Maeder and made free to download from Pexels.com

Our grandchildren assure me that there is nothing like a freshly picked and washed carrot – the taste is different and far superior to the store bought variety.

Other gardeners sometimes ask me, ‘why grow carrots when they are so cheap to buy?” Our grandchildren have the best answer!!

The ubiquitous orange carrot, was made popular for generations of children by the famous (or should that be ‘infamous’?) Bugs Bunny, who was never seen without one. I am sure many children were told, as I was, that eating carrots was “good for your eyesight”.

Carrots, botanically Daucus carota, are the tap roots of a biennial plant from the Apiaceae family, commonly known as ‘umbellifers’. This name arises from the umbel shape of the flower heads, reminding some of the shapes of upturned, open umbrellas. As biennials, they are sown in one season and flower the spring of the following year. They are related to parsley, parsnips, celery, dill, fennel, caraway, cumin and coriander.

The umbel shape of the flowers makes the plants a magnet for many types of pollinators and, therefore, they are easily cross pollinated IF they are of the same species. Carrots can be cross-pollinated by Queen Anne’s Lace (sometimes called False Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus Carota) so, if you want to collect the seed to sow in the following season, ensure that there is no Queen Anne’s Lace flowering nearby at the same time as your carrots are in flower. Carrots of one variety will also cross pollinate with carrots of another variety.

HISTORY

Carrots were first domesticated in an area around the Himalayas and in another area around modern-day Turkey. Originally, wild carrots were white or pale yellow. After domestication about 5,000 years ago, they developed into purples and yellows. It is likely that some of the yellow carrots leaned towards orange in colour, and these were selectively bred to develop the orange carrot we know so well. 1

Carrots became popular in Holland in 1500s, where Dutch breeders found the orange varieties grew well in their climate. At that time, Holland was a centre of botanical breeding and cultivation. Orange carrots spread from there to other parts of Europe where they became the ‘norm’. 1

The orange colour of carrots comes from beta-carotene, which is also found in red and yellow carrots. The human body converts beta-carotene to Vitamin A. Lacking Vitamin A can be a cause of ‘night blindness’. 2 This may have helped in the continued propagation of the myth relating carrots and good eyesight. Yellow carrots contain the most lutein, an antioxidant, which may help macular degeneration2. Amazingly, like so many other myths, there is some truth to the story!

CULINARY & MEDICINAL USES

Carrots are a staple in many home across the world. Like most root vegetables, they are a high-carbohydrate crop, giving calories (energy)3 as well as nutrition. They can be eaten raw, or cooked in a variety of ways: I have had them baked, steamed, stir-fried, boiled or slow cooked in stews and casseroles. They add sweetness to smoothies, bulk to soups and stews, and colour to coleslaw.

Traditionally, around the world, carrots have been used as a poultice for burns, as an overall tonic, a diuretic, against diarrhoea, and as a remedy for anaemia. 4 Carrot seeds have traditionally been made into a tea and used to reduce colic, stimulate the appetite, alleviate menstrual cramps and as a contraceptive! 4

HOW TO GROW CARROTS

Being a root crop, carrots do not like to be transplanted. Therefore, it is best to sow carrot seeds where you want carrots to grow. Carrots are a long-term crop and the greens can take up a lot of space in your garden. We planted carrots along the edge of the garden thinking that they wouldn’t take up much space but the greens are at least 60 cm across; that is, each leaf is approximately 30 cm long.

Carrots grow lots of greens but very little, if any, tap root in highly nutritious soil. Therefore, it is best to sow carrot seed into garden soil that has not been recently amended with any type of compost, manure, or nitrogen-rich material. If practising crop rotation, it is best to plant carrots in an area where very hungry plants have previously been; things like corn, tomatoes, cucurbits or brassicas. Forked carrots are generally a result of too much nitrogen in the soil.

Before sowing carrot seed, bring the soil to a fine tilth. This means to rake over the soil surface, ensuring that there are no lumps in the soil. If there are any lumps or rocks in the soil where the carrot root will grow, it will bend and head in another direction thus leading to crooked carrots. These are still completely edible but won’t look like the carrots that you see in the supermarket.

Carrot seeds germinate best in the dark yet, being small, they need to be sown fairly close to the soil surface. To counteract this, place a plank or a tarp over the place with the carrot seed has been sown. Remove the plank or tarp when 50% or more of your carrots have germinated. The sprouting seedlings will be pale and yellow-looking but they will recover after a couple of days of sunlight.

Carrots do well with consistently moist conditions and the plank will help maintain moisture around the germinating seed. As the carrots grow, ensure that they get regular, deep watering.

If you have sown your seed too thickly, allow the little seedlings to grow to about 3 cm then cut off the tops of the weaker seedlings until they are spaced about 5 cm apart. These removed greens are not wasted, you can place them in a salad or put them in a smoothie (or put them them in the compost).

Refer to the seed packet to learn how deep to sow the seed and how far apart each plant should be. The seed packet should also tell you how many days until the plants reach maturity. This simply means when an average carrot plant in ideal conditions should be ready to be pulled from the ground at an optimum length and weight. We have found that it is better to wait until the carrot has begun to push itself out of the ground and is at least 5 to 10 mm above the soil surface. This way you will also see the diameter of the carrot root.

It is always an exciting moment removing any root crop from the ground; you never really know what you are going to get. Carrots can be a little tricky but, once you have mastered the art of carrot growing, you will probably never go back to buying commercially grown carrots again..

FUN FINAL FACT

The high amount of antioxidants, lutein and beta-carotene, in carrots have been proven to protect eyes. So, what started as an ‘”old wives’ tale” has some truth after all! The myth itself arose from a propaganda campaign run in WWII where British pilots, who were using radar, were said to have had good eyesight due to the consumption of carrots! 2

Until next week!
Lynne ­čŹů

Disclaimer: The owners of Hillside Homegrown & Handmade are not responsible for any actions taken after reading this post. it is written for general information and entertainment purposes only.

REFERENCES

  1. Benjamin Plackett, Are carrots orange because of a Dutch revolutionary?
  2. Healthline, Are carrots good for your eyes?
  3. Eating For Energy, Carrots
  4. World Carrot Museum, Carrot Nutrition – Medicinal Properties

Advertisement

Published by Lynne

I'm one half of the partnership that owns "Hillside Homegrown and Handmade". We teach people how to develop food security by growing some of their own, learn basic handy-person skills to complete their own DIY projects and to live in a manner which is more sustainable for themselves, their families and the earth.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: