The Carrot (Daucus carota subsp. sativus) is a root vegetable, usually orange in color, though purple, red, white, and yellow varieties exist. The most commonly eaten part of a carrot is its taproot, but the greens are edible as well.
Carrots grow best in full sun but tolerate some shade. In order to avoid growing deformed carrots, it is best to plant them in loose soil free from rocks. They thrive in raised garden beds. High nitrogen levels in the soil should be avoided, as this will cause carrots to become “hairy” and misshapen. Most carrots take at least 2½ months to mature; thus seeds are sown from mid-February to July, depending on the area of the U.S. where planted.
Carrots typically contain about 88% water, 7% sugar, 1% protein, 1% fiber, 1% ash, and 2% other, while having almost no starch. Most of the taste of the carrot results from its glutamic acid and other free amino acids. The carrot gets its characteristic bright orange color from Beta-carotene, and they are rich in vitamin A, antioxidants and minerals.
Carrot cultivars can be grouped into two broad classes, Eastern carrots and Western carrots. More recently, a number of novelty cultivars have been bred for particular characteristics.
1. Eastern carrots were domesticated in Central Asia. Specimens of the eastern carrot that survive to present day are commonly purple or yellow, and often have branched roots.
2. Western carrots emerged in the Netherlands in the 17th century. The 4 Western cultivars, which are those we typically plant in U.S. home gardens, are commonly classified by their root shape:
• Chantenay carrots are shorter than other cultivars, but have greater girth, sometimes growing up to 3 inches in diameter. They have broad shoulders and taper towards a blunt, rounded tip. They are most commonly diced for use in canned or prepared foods.
• Danvers carrots have a conical shape, having well-defined shoulders and tapering to a point at the tip. They are more tolerant of heavy soil. Danvers cultivars are often puréed as baby food.
• Imperator carrots are similar to Danvers, but longer and less tolerant of heavy soils.
• Baby carrots (or Gourmet carrots or mini-carrots) have been increasingly popular since the 1980’s.
Carrots can be stored for several months in the refrigerator or over-wintered in a moist, cool place. For long-term storage, unwashed carrots can be placed in a bucket between layers of sand and a 50/50 mix of sand with wood shavings.