The carrot grows wild throughout the Mediterranean and as far east as the Orient. The region around Afghanistan may have been where the first carrots, which were purple, red or white, originated. Yellow carrots were first recorded in Turkey in the 900s. However, it was not until the 1600s that the first orange carrot was developed by the Dutch in Holland.
In the United States, there appears to have been little interest in the root. The 1848 Landreth catalogue lists four carrots: two are for table use and two are suggested feedstock for animals. The French became passionate about the orange vegetable and in the second half of the 19 th century, the famous French seedhouse, Vilmorin-Andrieux, initiated a vigorous development program for carrots. Many of today’s varieties were developed during that time including Chantenay and Nantes.
In North America, Queen Anne’s Lace is the carrot’s closest relative. Queen Anne’s Lace is actually a form of wild carrot, but the root has a woody core and there is almost no tender flesh that could be edible.
Carrots prefer a light, sandy loam soil, but they will grow in almost any type of soil. Long rooted carrots do not do well in heavy or clay soils because they become tough or misshapened as they grow through the difficult soil. Carrots should be direct seeded. They can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring. Do not plant carrots in freshly manured soil because fresh manure encourages forked roots. Carrot beds should have humus added the fall before sowing.
Carrot seeds take a long time to germinate – 2-3 weeks. Soaking the seeds overnight before planting will speed up germination. Sow seed thinly and cover with about ½ inch of soil. Thin carrots twice. The first time separate the seedlings by 1 inch. The second time separate the plants by 3 inches. The thinnings can be eaten as baby carrots. Carrots can be planted throughout the spring and again in late summer for fall or winter harvest. If heavily mulched, carrots can be harvested throughout the winter.
Benjamin Watson who wrote Heirloom Vegetables suggests that carrot seed be sown with radish seed. He writes, “I generally mix carrot seed with radish seed and sow together to mark the planted area and facilitate weeding and thinning. The radishes will be up and out of the bed long before they begin to compete with the carrots.”