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Field Guide: Carrots


Field Guide: Carrots

March 10, 2014

Carrots: “The Honey Underground”

Carrots began, like so many vegetables, in the wild. Earlier cultures used the leaves and seeds as medicine. Through cultivation and selection, carrots evolved into the valuable source of nutrition, livestock fodder, and beloved icon of a cartoon rabbit that they are today. We’ve credited carrots with extra-special powers throughout the ages–early Arab cultures believed they had aphrodisiac effects, Greeks thought they cured venereal disease, and WWII pilots in Britain ate them for spectacular night vision.

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Above: Laura Boyle with bunches of freshly washed beets and carrots from her Wilderness Garden. Photograph by Erin Boyle.

Cheat Sheet

  • Biennial
  • Zones 4-10
  • Companions: Herbs, tomatoes, peas, and lettuce enhance growth. Dill can inhibit growth. Plant fast-growing veggies, like radishes, between rows of carrots to save space.
  • Varieties: Many varieties, shapes, sizes, and colors. For a Bugs Bunny-type carrot, try ‘Danvers.’ ‘Paris Market’ produces adorable, globe-shaped roots.
  • Reasons to Grow: Carrots can deliver a multitude of benefits to your home garden. Few pests attack them and the green wispy foliage looks beautiful among summer flowers. Purple, red, white, and yellow roots can make a simple plate of raw carrots shine on the dinner table.

Keep It Alive

  • Full sun
  • Keep evenly irrigated.
  • Outdoors is best; small varieties can thrive in containers. If you have a tiny space, try a tiny carrot. The “Thumbelina” variety, or another of the small cultivar, will do well even in a container.
  • Plant in early spring and mid-summer to enjoy both an early summer and fall harvest.

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Above: Biodynamic carrots grown at Fern Verrow farm. Photograph by Howard Sooley.

To grow your own carrots, you’ll need deep, loamy soil, free of rocks or dirt clods that cause crooked roots. Before seeding, spread and incorporate an inch or two of well-aged compost to give your plants an extra boost. Direct seed 2 inches apart and thin to 4-6 inches apart by snipping the tops. (Pulling can disturb the roots you leave behind). Carrots store well in the ground, so you can leave them in the soil even when they have matured. Be patient–it takes about two and a half months for carrots to size up.


Above: A pile of fresh-from-the-earth carrots from Seattle Urban Farm Company. Photograph by Hilary Dahl.

Farmers and their fans often cite the sweet, spicy taste of homegrown carrots as a convincing reason to make the culinary switch to local produce. There’s something special about pulling a root so perfectly edible out of the dirt–the Celts called carrots, “the honey underground.”

Portland-Farmers-Market_Michael-A-Muller-carrots and green beansAbove: Carrots and string beans at the Portland Farmer’s Market. Photography by Michael Muller.

Growing your own jewel-toned roots means you can safely scrub, not peel, your carrots. The outermost layers of the carrot contain most of the famous beta-carotene benefits, as well as other antioxidants and phytonutrients, so enjoy this homegrown benefit! Try your carrots pickled, grated, steamed, roasted, or raw.


Above: Vegetables as décor? See Alexa’s tabletop display on Remodelista; photograph by Alexa Hotz.

soup carrots and scallions

Above:  Photograph by Michelle Slatalla. For Michelle’s carrot soup recipe, see Recipe: Irresistible Soup in 30 Minutes.

Keep your vegetables fresh longer with our Cheat Sheet: How to Keep Vegetables Fresh Longer.

Finally, get more ideas on how to successfully plant, grow, and care for carrot with our Carrot: A Field Guide.

Interested in other edible plants for your garden? Get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various edible plants (including flowers, herbs and vegetables) with our Edible Plants: A Field Guide.

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