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Carrots of Many Colors

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There's nothing quite as satisfying as grabbing a handful of the bright feathery leaves of a carrot and tugging out a vivid orange root. I find the experience so compelling that in the organic garden at Dr. Weil's ranch, I usually eat carrots without washing them. Still, it is a good idea to rinse and brush off carrots bought at the market, and to peel them as well if they are conventionally grown.

Carrots, Daucus carota, need not be orange. As a matter of fact, the orange carrot is a relative newcomer on the scene. Carrots were originally either white or purple. Selection and hybridization in the early to mid-1900s brought us the vitamin-packed orange carrot we know today.

But carrots are now in the process of becoming more colorful once again. Today, in both markets and seed catalogs, you can find not only orange carrots, but red, yellow, white and purple varieties. With new research that points out the value of the micronutrients in various vegetable pigments, it is undoubtedly good to eat a variety of colors of carrots.

Carrots, along with other root vegetables, have rather unique soil requirements, and so may require their own garden bed. A sandy, loose loam that isn't too high in nitrogen is preferred. Nitrogen is essential to green growth, but too much can lead to gorgeous carrot tops attached to slight, pale carrots. Clumpy clay and rocks should also be removed to prevent crooked and deformed roots. Manure should be well-composted before adding it to the root bed or it may cause carrots to fork. At Dr. Weil's ranch we use a fertilizer available from Gardens Alive! called Root Crops Alive! I feed carrots just once, when I sow the seeds.

You won't find carrot seedlings at the local nursery, because transplanting can also cause deformation of the root. Carrots must be grown from seed. Sow in rows about six inches apart. It is essential to keep the seeds moist for up to two weeks to ensure that they germinate. When I plant carrot seeds, I sprinkle peat moss over the seeds to help them retain moisture. In the Arizona sun, this is essential.

At the ranch, we don't seem to have many pests in our root bed except an occasional snail. In most parts of the country, however, you'll most likely have to be wary of the carrot fly, Psila rosae, which likes to lay its eggs on young carrots so the larvae can feed. The carrot fly is attracted to the smell of carrots, so one way to keep them away is to sow your carrot seeds carefully, placing one seed every three inches, so that you don't need to thin them and release odor that invites an invasion. If you must thin, do it on a still evening. Also, garlic has traditionally been planted with carrots to mask the tell-tale scent. Perhaps the most effective means of controlling carrot-fly infestations is via floating row covers; a fine mesh that will keep the flies out and give the carrot tops room to grow.

As everyone knows, carrots are great for your vision, especially night vision. The beta-carotene slows the progression of macular degeneration and helps prevent cataracts. There is more vitamin A in carrots than almost any other vegetable. They also contain high levels of fiber, biotin, vitamin K, vitamin B6, vitamin C, thiamin and potassium.

Here at the ranch, we are particularly partial to the Kyoto red carrot, but if you want to branch out from the pedestrian world of orange roots, I recommend first planting a patch of purple carrots. Their deep purple pigments and sweet carrot taste will amaze you.

By Jace Mortensen, Guest Commentator - News
Photos by Tamarack Little

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