The World of Colorful Carrots

Colorful carrots can be the star of your table with these helpful tips for growing, harvesting, and saving these delightful root vegetables.

| Spring 2015

Carrots may not be glamorous, yet they are truly one of the delights of the home vegetable garden.

They come in a stunning variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Freshly harvested, they are so much sweeter, crisper and juicier than their grocery store counterparts. Some gardeners find them fussy to grow, with their primary requirement of very deeply-worked, rich soil, but they’re worthwhile and, once you get the knack, no more difficult than other crops.

Carrots originated in western Asia, which is still the center of diversity for the wild form. The original color was mainly white, red or purple. Orange carrots, in fact, are a relatively recent development. They were originally a product of Dutch breeding and are believed to have existed no earlier than the 1600s.

Carrots were originally appreciated more for their aromatic foliage, which resembles parsley, than for their roots. Over centuries of selection, however, the roots became milder and less woody — in a word, more palatable. It is believed that the crop was grown in ancient Egypt, and certainly later, by the Greeks and Romans. The earliest mention of them occurs in a work by Theophrastus, who, in the third century B.C., indicated that the best carrots were produced around Sparta. They are also mentioned by the elder Pliny. But the record is less certain than with other crops, because carrots were often confused with their close relative, parsnips — it’s difficult to know which vegetable is actually being discussed in ancient texts. The plant, and especially its seeds, were highly valued in ancient herbal medicine. Among other virtues, it was believed that the seeds had the ability to neutralize poisons.


To grow great carrots you need to start with your soil. Carrots are sweeter and milder when grown in a neutral soil pH, so start with a soil test and add lime if necessary. The ideal soil pH should be around 6.5, or a bit higher. Once you’ve got that right, turn your attention to soil nutrients. Your soil test will offer specific recommendations, but the bottom line is this: carrots need a good, rich, mellow garden soil, well-worked, with plenty of organic matter. It also goes without saying that they need excellent drainage and full sun.

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