Plant of the Week
Latin: Daucus carota
All our lives, everyone from our mothers to government dieticians has urged us to eat our vegetables but, if you look at the data, we’re not very good at it. Not only is the quantity lacking but so is the variety. But changes may be afoot as Americans become more health conscious and explore new ways of incorporating fresh vegetables into our diets.
Carrots (Daucus carota) are leading the way in this resurgence of interest in eating fresh vegetables. In fact, it’s not just any carrot but the baby carrot that is leading the charge.
Carrots are biennial herbs grown as an annual. It’s a member of the parsley family that was first domesticated somewhere in Central Asia, probably in Afghanistan. It seems to have been introduced to southern Europe by invading armies around 2,000 years ago. In its original form, the root was often branched and red in color. When cooked, these red taproots turned an unappetizing brown.
Sometime in the mid 15th century, yellow mutants appeared in northern Europe. These were followed about 1700 by Dutch selections containing the orange, high carotene roots we know today. Until recent years, carrots were seldom eaten raw.
The familiar roadside weed Queen Anne’s Lace (wild carrot) with its lacy leaves and striking umbels of white flowers are found throughout the world. Though native to Central Asia and Europe, most authorities believe its worldwide escape is due to the reversion to ancestral forms from carrots allowed to flower from roots left in the garden over winter.
In the last four decades, carrot consumption has almost doubled to 12 pounds per person per year. Frozen and canned use of carrots is declining but fresh consumption is steadily increasing since the introduction of the baby carrot in 1988. That year, Mike Yurosek, a Bakersfield, Calif., vegetable grower, found a way to turn the lowly carrot into a user friendly and healthy snack food.
Fresh market carrot farmers were plagued by the vagaries of root growth. Because carrots are graded on size and appearance, only the straightest 7-inch long roots made it to the marketplace. The seconds were used as livestock feed. Yurosek purchased a green-bean cutting machine and started cutting his production into 2-inch long pieces and running the pieces through a modified potato peeler. The baby carrot was born, and what was once a discarded product, began selling for as much as five times the price of whole carrots. Today, two California farms provide 80 percent of the nation’s supply of these carrot nubbins.
Carrots are cool season vegetables and can be planted as a spring or fall crop. The straightest carrots are produced in sandy, well-worked soils free of clods and rocks. Spring seeding should begin in February or March when other cool season vegetables such as onions and broccoli go out. Plant seeds ¼-inch deep with three seeds per inch of row.
Multiple plantings can be made until about the time of the last frost. Fall planting can begin in late August or September when the hottest days of summer are past. Keep the seedbed well watered until germination occurs and seedlings are well established. Thin seed rows so that plants are about an inch apart. Carrots are ready for pulling in around 60 to 70 days. If you wish to produce your own baby carrots, just pull the plants a couple weeks earlier.
By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - June 26, 2009
The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.