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A mix of carrots from early in the season, before they were mature.

Just a quick post about some carrot taste testing we did this year. I had a whole bunch of carrot seed left over from last year, and because I hadn’t had great germination last year, and had decided just to use the seed up, not expecting much to come up, I used my seeding wheel to plant them in 5 rows, one for each variety. Carrot germination is all about the correct soil temperature (not too hot, not too cold) and adequate moisture. The seed is small, needs to be planted fairly shallow, and dries out easily. It’s difficult to get a high germination rate, even using all the best tricks. Not expecting much, I planted about 250 ft of carrots (five 50 ft rows). The varieties were Danvers Half Longs, Nelson (pelleted in little clay balls for ease of planting), Yaya, Scarlet Nantes and Atomic Red. I happened to plant at the perfect time in mid April, right before we got a period of light rains and overcast days that didn’t dry out the soil quickly, and I had excellent germination on everything but the Nelson.

Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne’s Lace (aka wild carrot), which grows wild here. Each flower cluster has a red flower in the middle, where the Queen pricked her finger.

A bit of history. Carrots originated in Afghanistan by saving seed from plants with certain desirable traits from the wild carrot, Queen Anne’s Lace – Daucus carota. They have been cultivated in one form or another for 2000-3000 years. The original carrots were not orange, but instead were white, yellow, and shades of red and purple. Orange carrots have only been around for a few hundred years. Carrots are a biannual plant, meaning they produce seeds in their second year (assuming you didn’t pull them up and eat them at the end of the first year) and belong to the parsley family. (They are related to dill, parsley, cumin and fennel). Carrots come in 4 basic types. Danvers, Chantenay, Imperator and Nantes.

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Danvers, if left to their own devices and not harvested early, can get really really big. This one weighed in at over 2 lbs. They are great for juicing.

  • Danvers (around 6″ long) were developed in Massachusetts in the 1870’s. Used both fresh and processed, they have a distinct tapered shape, wide at the top and pointed at the bottom. They are great for heavy soils and have a strong top, making it easy to hand pull, but they tend to get woody as it gets larger. Some sources group Danvers in with Chantenay.
  • Chantenay (around 5″ long) originated in France and is used primarily for processing. Somewhat tapered shape and a rounded tip; lighter in color and courser in texture than other varieties. Good for heavy soils. I’ve never grown them.
  • Imperator (8″ to 10″ long) is the classic long skinny carrot seen in the grocery stores, and also the carrots that are shaved down to make those “baby” carrots found in snack bags. (News Flash: they aren’t actually baby carrots). The flavor is excellent, but the long length requires really light sandy soils to grow straight. Has excellent long term storage.
  • Nantes (around 6″ long), also developed in France. Early maturing and the best for fresh eating. Most have a distinct rounded end. Does well in heavier soils, probably partially due to that blunt tip. Tops, in my experience, are generally weak and break off easily, so they need to be dug rather than pulled. Crisp sweet flavor.

Years ago, when I first started growing carrots, I focused mostly on the Nantes, and that’s still the case. I grew Nelson and Napa carrots (from Territorial Seed) in Colorado – preferring the Napa because they tended to split less after a heavy rain. They worked well in the heavy clay soils there. But I now buy most of my seed from Fedco, and Fedco doesn’t sell Napa carrots. Hence the branching out to Scarlet Nantes and Yaya. The Atomic Red (an Imperator type) was to add some color to my bunches, and the Danver’s Half Long was a free seed pack I happened to have on hand.

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Just about nothing better than a crisp carrot from the garden!

On to the tasting. In late September, we picked two quality examples from each type, and tasted them raw. Not surprisingly, we enjoyed the nantes varieties the best, with the Scarlet Nantes winning the taste test, and Yaya close on its heels. The Danver’s was surprisingly decent eating, tying with the Nelson for third place, and the Atomic Red was downright weird. Fuzzy with root hairs, this is one ugly carrot, with a surprisingly spicy flavor. It wasn’t our favorite. I wouldn’t grow it again. So, from now on, I’ll be growing primarily Scarlet Nantes. What’s extra lovely about them is that they are an heirloom open pollinated variety.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of the samples. We ate them before I thought of it.

What’s your favorite carrot variety.

Miles Away Farm Blog © 2015, where we had a 27 degree day on Tuesday night, the sheep have been turned out to what’s left of the garden, and all of the remaining carrots have been harvested and stored for winter soups and stews.

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