Carrots are a root crop, meaning you eat the root. Originally from the Mediterranean region, carrots are now consumed worldwide as a versatile veggie. They can be eaten raw, cooked, or juiced, and they're easy to grow in home gardens.
Carrots come in colors including white, yellow, orange, red, purple and even black. They also come in a range of shapes, from long and skinny to short and round. Home gardeners have a long list of carrot varieties to choose from, started from seeds or plants.
Little Fingers Carrot is the perfect variety for anyone looking to plant baby carrots. Each plant produces 5″ long orange, crunchy roots with dark green tops. Longer, more traditional carrots will produce the healthiest crops if started from seed. Transplanting can cause the roots to grow in a forked, or split, shape. Some qualities to consider when choosing the seeds for your garden are the shape (blunt root end or long, thin shape); deep red, purple, or yellow-orange color (for salad and raw appetizer appearance); and dense and heavy vs. light and crisp texture, for your preferred method of preserving. And, of course, always start with high quality, organic seeds!
Work the soil loose in the early spring. Till the ground as deep as possible to give carrot roots plenty of space to grow. Plant your transplants or seeds in well-drained soil that is amended with organic compost, and thin plants to 3 to 4 inches apart as they mature and the greens become visible. Rows should be at least 15 inches apart. Layer 3 to 4 inches of organic mulch such as straw or bark around green tops. For a fall crop of carrots, plant 2 to 3 months before the first frost. Planting some Chive herbs among your carrots will increase their size and amount of flavor!
Carrots are a great source of vitamin A and a minor source of several other vitamins. They're rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium and other trace minerals, as well. Good eyesight has never known a better friend, but carrots are also known for improving stomach ailments, balancing blood sugar, and reducing risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke.
Carrots contain a goldmine of nutrients and fiber, known to fuel good health and prevent disease. Most of a carrot's nutrients are in the skin, so no matter how they're consumed, they're best scrubbed clean with a brush and eaten unpeeled. Baby carrots in supermarkets have been coarsely tumbled and peeled, and contain the fewest beneficial components of carrots. The outer layer might not be the most beautiful, but why waste all the good nutritional value?
Harvest carrots when you can see color on the root top, usually around 60 to 80 days after planting. Pull them from the ground by using a garden fork to loosen the soil, if necessary. Cut the leaves off as soon as you remove carrots from the ground, to stop their growth. Store carrots in plastic bags to retain their moisture, and refrigerate up to one week. Or, you can store carrot roots in a cold place, 32 to 40 degrees, buried in sawdust or damp sand over the winter, this is called clamping.
Carrots can be sliced and frozen for future use in soups and casseroles. Juicing carrots produces a nutrient-dense drink. Raw carrots are great served in large spears with dips or in small slices for salads. Diced carrots mix well with broccoli stems for a crunchy slaw. A hit with both adults and children is carrots cooked in a reduction of orange juice and brown sugar, and topped with melted marshmallows. Carrots are also a favorite vegetable for canning and pickling, as they retain their vibrant color and unique flavor no matter how you preserve them.