If you had asked a group of gardeners twenty years ago: “Do you grow purple carrots?” they would haven given you a suspicious look. Were you crazy? A scammer? Nowadays carrots of various colours can be grown: you can grow a rainbow of carrots if you choose. However, until the last twenty years or so gardeners grew only orange varieties.
What’s more, if you were to time travel back four centuries and ask a group of gardeners the same question, they too, would think you crazy. Of course, they grew purple carrots. Purple was the colour of carrots, apart from a few white or yellow ones.
What’s a Rainbow of Carrots?
Until recent times, most people believed that carrots were orange and had always been that colour. Historically, however, purple carrots were the norm.
Around 400 years ago orange varieties started to be cultivated and, according to records held by the World Carrot Museum in the U.K., became very popular in Holland during the reign of William of Orange. It has been suggested that orange carrots were cultivated widely to honour the House of Orange but there is no documentation to verify that.
Once the popularity of orange varieties spread purple carrots became relatively unknown.
At present, your carrots can be purple, yellow, red, white, black, or orange: not a full rainbow but getting close.
Well, Can I Grow a Rainbow of Carrots at Home?
Shops normally don’t display a rainbow of carrots: food merchants usually sell only orange. If you want to splash out with a range of colours you will need to grow your own.
Seed for carrots of various colours is readily available nowadays. You can buy packets containing just one colour or, for the rainbow effect, packets of mixed colours are available. It’s as easy as that.
Does Colour Affect a Carrot’s Nutritional Value?
Carrots of different colours do have some different nutrients, as the chart below from the Carrot Museum in the UK shows. In that respect you can say that they have different nutritional values, However, as most people would argue, carrots are good for your health so it doesn’t matter what colour you eat.
Why not grow and eat all the different colours, thereby providing your body with all the nutrients they contain?
CHART SHOWING THE MAIN NUTRIENTS IN CARROTS OF DIFFERENT COLOURS
|Orange||Beta-carotene and some alpha-carotene. Both are orange pigments. High in Vitamin A, so good for healthy eyes and general well-being|
|Yellow||Xanthophylls and lutein, pigments similar to beta-carotene. May help to prevent some cancers and reduce the risk of heart disease. Xanthophyll is particularly helpful for eye health.|
|Red||Tinted by lycopene, another form of carotene. Lycopene can help lower heart disease and prostate cancer. Good for healthy skin.|
|White||No pigmentation but they contain phytochemicals, which protect against disease, especially heart disease.|
|Purple||Usually orange inside. They have more beta-carotene than orange carrots but it comes from anthocyanins, which act as powerful antioxidants. Anthocyanins also help to prevent heart disease.|
|Black||Contain anthocyanins so have antioxidant properties. Black carrots also have antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.|
You can sow carrots – regardless of their colour – from spring through to early autumn. Sow them where they are going to grow: they don’t don’t like to be moved around. Carrots grow well in raised beds, no-dig gardens and large containers as well as the conventional seedbed. Just make sure that containers are deep enough to let the roots grow long and straight.
Carrots grow best in loose, moist, fertile soil and the time spent preparing the soil pays dividends.
- Loosen the soil and work it to a fine tilth, removing debris and any clods that won’t break down. Don’t leave anything that would hinder the root growth.
- Work in some compost and well-rotted manure – not fresh manure, which is responsible for forked and misshapen roots.
Once the ground is ready,
- make a groove 1 – 1.5 cm (about ½ inch) deep and scatter the seeds thinly.
- cover the seeds with a thin layer of fine soil and press down it gently.
- water the bed lightly. A layer of mulch will help to retain moisture.
- put a cover of wire netting or similar in place if you want to keep cats or other animals from disturbing the seedbed.
Ongoing Care and the Secret to Avoiding Green Shoulders
Around three weeks after sowing, the seedlings will start to show. When they reach 2.5 cm (1 in) in height, thin them to 7.5 cm (3 in) apart.
HINT: A way to avoid root disturbance when you’re thinning carrots is to snip off the tops of unwanted seedlings, leaving the roots in the ground.
Keep on watering and mulching the young carrots as required. Weed as required.
THE SECRET: When the crowns push through the ground, cover them with soil or mulch. This will prevent green shoulders, which can give the carrots a bitter flavour.
And there you have it. They aren’t totally sow-and-grow because they need to be thinned and have their shoulders covered. But how hard is that? In 80 – 100 days after sowing you could have a rainbow of carrots in your garden.
When you decide to grow carrots in your organic home garden, whether you choose to grow the orange varieties that have been around for centuries or go for the newer colour range, the following steps will guide you to success.
- Prepare the seed bed where you want the carrots to grow to maturity. The soil should be fine, moist and fertile. Alternatively, you can provide similar conditions in a no-dig garden or suitably sized containers.
- Sow the seeds thinly, cover with fine soil and water gently. You may wish to protect the seedbed from cats or other animals.
- Once the seedlings reach 2.5 cm (1 in) in height, thin them to 7.5 cm (3 in) apart.
- Continue watering and mulching the carrots as they grow.
- Whenever crowns push through the ground, cover them with soil or mulch.
Happy gardening and a rainbow of carrots as a reward for your work.