Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Carrots (Daucus carota ssp. sativus)

The cultivated carrot is a biennial umbellifer from the Apiaceae family and was domesticated from the wild carrot (Daucus carota). Wild carrots are found in temperate regions of the world and are quite common in the British Isles. However, carrots are thought to have originated in Persia which is the region now known as Iran and Afghanistan. Nowadays cultivars come in many different colours including black, purple, red, white and yellow.

An image of freshly dug carrots with their leafy green foliage
Carrots (Daucus carota ssp. sativus)

According to Eurostat the EU-28 produced an estimated 5.1 million tonnes of carrots in 2015. Poland and the UK accounted for over a quarter of EU-28 output. Overall, China are by far the largest carrot producers in the world.

How to grow carrots

Carrots grow best in a sunny position with a light fertile soil. Try to avoid heavy clay soils or soils with a lot of stones which can 'fork' the roots. Grow the blocky short carrots in heavy or stony soils and the long slender varieties in deep loose soil. Carrots can also be grown in containers, greenhouses or polytunnels.

Seeds are generally sown from March until July although early and late varieties are available. Sow seeds thinly 1cm (1/2") deep and 30cm (12") apart. Water the bed after sowing and keep the bed from drying out during the growing season. Thin out seedlings as they grow to allow enough space for the roots to develop. Harvest when ready. Baby (or young) carrots can be harvested early or the roots left to mature. Lift late carrots by October and store over the winter.

One of the main problems with growing carrots is carrot root fly, the larvae of which burrows deep into the carrot ruining it. Carrot root fly is a tricky customer to avoid. Sow seeds thinly so you don't have to thin them out thereby alerting the fly with the scent of newly thinned foliage. Thin in the evenings when the fly is less active and water afterwards. Grow under cover. Surround beds with a fleece or mesh around 60cm high.

Raw edible parts

The roots and carrot tops (ferny green top foliage) are edible raw. The tops are probably best eaten young in salads as they have a strong flavour and can get a little bitter. Older leaves can be juiced or blended with other vegetables. Carrot roots can be grated in salads or juiced for a beneficial drink. The grated root can be used to make an excellent raw carrot cake. An edible oil can be obtained from the seed and leaves. The aromatic seed can be used as a spice.

Other uses

The whole plant has long been used in herbal medicine for various ailments including kidney and bladder conditions. The root can be made into a wine. The roasted ground root can be made into a coffee substitute. An orange dye can be obtained from the root.


The foliage, in particular the sap, is very nutritious but can sometimes cause an allergic skin reaction in sensitive people.


Raw sauerkraut recipe using carrots

400g white cabbage
1 medium sized carrot
2 tsp sea salt
0.5 litre Kilner or Le Parfait jar with rubber seal and clip-on lid

Finely chop the cabbage and carrot. Layer the cabbage, carrot and sea salt in the jar. Press down firmly and seal the jar. Leave for 3-7 days to ferment. Check it regularly and when it tastes tangy it will be ready to eat. Bloom may appear on the surface, simply skim it off and discard. Store in a cool dark place, adding water to ensure the vegetables are fully covered if needs be, and it should last for months. Juice from the original batch can be poured over a new batch to help the fermentation process.

This is a really useful way of preserving vegetables with a minimal amount of work. Sauerkraut can also be made in a crock pot or other container. However, do ensure it is covered with a plate or clean cloth. Other vegetables that work well in sauerkraut include red cabbage, cucumbers, garlic, guerkin, onions and turnip. However, most vegetables can be used but they must be raw and uncooked. Sauerkraut is full of probiotics and very beneficial to health.

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