In many cases, a wild plant is introduced into a new land where it continues to grow wild. Wild carrot grows throughout the United States but it is not a native. Similarly, Queen Anne’s lace has a little white, carrot-like root and it is the species from which our modern hybrid orange carrot was developed.
The carrot (Daucus carota var. sativus) was named from the French word “carotte”, which in Latin is “carota”. It has been grown since prehistoric times and probably originated in Afghanistan. Some primitive forms were carried throughout Asia and ended up in the Mediterranean region where it has long been cultivated.
It is probable that the first interest in carrots as food developed from their medicinal value. The Greeks wrote about their value as a stomach tonic in the first century but nothing about importance as a food until much later. By the 13th century, carrots were being grown all over Europe and in China. In the 1600’s, carrots were grown as a farm crop in England and Dutch plant breeders were developing stout, sweet roots.
The Europeans carried the carrot to America where it was grown by colonists, pilgrims and even American Indians. The deep orange color is caused by carotene, the orange pigment high in vitamin A.
Carrots are easy to grow. The seeds are tiny and slow germinating but any good, fluffy, deep, loose garden soil will work. The pH range should be 6.0 to 6.8. They don’t like really hot weather so planting early in the spring every couple of weeks until late June and then again in late August is ideal for our zones 6 & 7. Full sun is best but partial shade will work along with consistent moisture, especially in raised beds which dry out faster. Apply fish fertilizer when the plants are about 6″ tall and mulch well.
Younger carrots are the most tender and nutritious, 1/2″ to 1″ in diameter. When harvesting, cut off the greens right away so they don’t draw moisture and nourishment from the roots. If you miss harvesting all of your fall-sown seeds, check them in early spring. You may be surprised to find some ready to harvest, early sweet carrots!
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