CARROT: A FAVORITE ROOT VEGETABLE
This familiar root vegetable is a hardy bien;nial belonging to the family Umbelliferae. Its botanical name is Daucus Carota variety sativa. It has much-divided leaves and usually yellow or orange-red roots which differ widely in size and shape. The small whitish flowers do not appear until the year following that in which seeds are sown. The plants are cultivated for the sake of their swollen edible roots which are ready for use two to four months after sowing out of doors.
Carrots, like other vegetable root crops, must be grown on deep friable land free from stones and fresh manure. It is usual to grow this crop on ground that was manured for a previous crop; the manure will have decayed, and the soil will still be rich enough to provide good Carrots. If grown on lumpy soil or that which contains fresh manure the roots are likely to be misshapen. Poor soil can be improved by forking into the top layer (depth of spade blade) a generous quantity of well-rotted compost.
Value and Development. The Carrot is of great value as an article of diet because of its carotene content. This is an orange-yellow sub;stance which becomes Vitamin A when absorbed by the cells of the intestine. Vitamin A, an es;sential substance to man's health, is not found in other root vegetables such as Parsnips and Turnips; green vegetables are a greater source of it, but Carrots are important because they are available fresh throughout the year.
Many varieties of Carrot were first developed in Europe over a century ago, several of them by Vilmorin, a French seedsman and plant breeder. Such varieties as French Forcing, Early Horn and Long Orange are among the oldest, while Chantenay, Nantes, Imperator and Ox-heart are of later introduction. The most modern varieties are selections made for sweetness, texture of the flesh, and especially for a mini;mum of core in the root.
The First Sowings. It was once the practice of professional gardeners to sow their earliest Car;rots in January in a hotbed, heated by fermenting organic matter or by electric cables over which was spread fertile soil to a depth of 6-8 in. The seeds were sown broadcast and covered lightly with screened soil. A frame and glass sash overhead and additional protection when weather conditions demanded such, provided a means whereby tender, sweet Carrots could be harvested in approximately 65-70 days. Today the fine quality Carrots shipped from warm parts of the United States may be bought at the food market at much less trouble and expense. The Carrot being so popular, almost every home gar;dener who grows vegetables chooses this as one of his crops to be grown in the open garden. It is a moderately hardy plant (the original species from which Carrots were developed is the com;mon Queen Anne's Lace, Daucus Carota, a European weed introduced into North America and familiar as a summer wayside flower).
The first outdoor sowing of Carrots is made as soon in spring as the soil can be trodden without adhering to the shoes. In the New York City area, unless the soil is a heavy clay, there are usually a few days in March when the first sow;ing may be made; on heavy soils a slightly later date is favored. First sowing dates are earlier where spring comes earlier; later where spring is more delayed.
Sandy soils or those of an open texture are definitely best for Carrots. Good drainage is more important than is the precise pH value of the soil, since Carrots grow well where soils are rather acid and also where slightly alkaline. If the soil has been used the previous year for a well-manured crop, or if liberal supplies of rotted compost to which phosphatic fertilizer was added were dug in during the fall, the area selected should be merely forked over in prep;aration for sowing. Should it be the sandy type of soil and dry on the surface, tread closely over it after forking, thus consolidating it. For heav;ier soil this treading may not be necessary, or advisable, but in any case rake off any debris that may be there and finish to a level surface. It is important that no low areas are left where excess rain water may collect.
The distance between Carrot rows should be governed by the method of cultivation that is to be practiced: comparatively close for hand tools, wider apart for mechanical cultivation. In the home garden 12-15 in. between rows is ordinarily ample.
At the time of this first sowing the soil is cold and so the seeds should be settled as near the surface as will assure sufficient moisture and warmth for germination. They should never be more than 1/2 in. deep; in most soils 1/4 in. is better.
Early varieties, listed as maturing in 65-70 days, are best for spring sowing. One ounce of seed will sow 200 ft. of row, and to enjoy a long season of the best quality roots, sowings of these early varieties in sufficient quantity should be made every three weeks until the end of May.
The seed is slow to germinate and often rain beats down the soil before this takes place. Seeds have been known to rot in unfavorable weather, but gardeners often take a chance with an early sowing with the hope of obtaining an especially early crop. Often, too, weeds start be;fore the Carrot seedlings do, making cultivation difficult. It is a good plan to sow a few Radish seeds with those of the Carrots, just enough for the Radish seed to be spaced a few inches apart. The Radishes germinate quickly and provide a guide for safe use of the hoe or cultivator.
As a rule Carrots come up too thickly, and while they tolerate some crowding, the best roots can be had only when the seedlings are thinned to 2 in. apart in the rows. There will be less disturbance of roots that are left if thinning is done when the soil is damp.
For Winter Storage and Freezing. June is the month to sow Carrots for winter storage and for freezing. That month is especially important where severe frost is likely by October 1st. Danvers Half Long is about the best variety for this purpose. At this sowing date, the seeds may be covered 1/2 in. deep. It is an advantage to soak the drills with water before sowing, especially during a dry spell.
Throughout the summer frequent surface cultivation is most helpful. It not only keeps weeds in control (these naturally partake of the avail;able plant food) but frequent hoeing prevents soil cracks that encourage loss of soil moisture and excessive air about the roots. Thin these Carrots for late use so that they stand 4 in. apart.
Clean culture and adequate supplies of water on well-drained soil that has a temperature of 65-70 degrees seem to be among the essential needs for summer. In most of our manures and compost heap material, essential trace elements are present. Where shortages of manganese or boron occur, these are evidenced by blackening at the cores of the roots but it can be safely as;sumed that in most localities liberal use of good compost prevents the development of such con;ditions. If manganese or boron deficiency is sus;pected, consult your State Agricultural Experi;ment Station.
Storage and Preservation. Carrots may be stored over winter where the temperature ranges between 30-40 degrees and the air is not excessively dry. In such an environment, which is likely to be found in a garage or cool part of the basement, burying them in layers with slightly moist sand between is likely to be satisfactory.