By Les Harrison, UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director and Clara Foran, UF/IFAS Wakulla County Family and Consumer Sciences Temporary Program Aide
Spring 2015 is about to officially end in a few weeks, but one cool season crop is still coming out of the UF/IFAS Wakulla County demonstration garden. They will not last much longer with the rising temperatures.
Carrots are a tasty case-in-point of a popular cool season root vegetable which grows well in Florida’s Big Bend region. This native of Asia Minor handles the mild days and occasionally frosty nights with few problems.
Carrots are in the same plant family with well-known herbs parsley, fennel, dill, and cumin. Originally, the leaves were eaten and the root discarded.
This dietary staple has been cultivated and selectively bred for over 2000 years. The wild carrot, Daicis carota, was likely first used in Iran or Afghanistan where they are still commonly found.
Over the centuries carrot seeds have been traded widely and travelled to almost all points on the globe. There are now eastern carrots and western carrots, each with its own distinctive characteristics.
Eastern carrots tend to be purple or yellow and have multiple roots. Western carrots are commonly orange with a single root. There are also red, white and multicolored carrots.
The orange color of many western carrots was selected as a political statement to gain favor with the Dutch House of Orange in the 17th Century. As it turned out, they were popular for their taste and ease of cultivation.
Numerous orange carrot varieties are still grown and marketed today in the Western Hemisphere.
For contemporary dietary considerations, carrots are a vegetable high in beta carotene. Few other vegetables or fruit contain as much beta- carotene as carrots, which the body converts to Vitamin A.
Both Vitamin A and Beta Carotene are important in maintaining good eye sight, healthy skin and a stable immune system. Beta carotene is also the nutrient that gives the carrot is beautiful orange color. In addition carrots are a good source of fiber, potassium and vitamin C and B.
On the contrary to what most people believe the majority of the carrots goodness is found in or just below the skin, a number of these nutrients are lost when peeling occurs.
Propagating this plant is relatively simple, inexpensive and will reward the grower with an ample supply of tasty and nutritious roots. Insect problems are few in the cool spring, but moles and voles can damage the roots.
The most common mistake gardeners make is sowing the seed too thick. If this happens, thinning the plants is necessary.
The two orange varieties being grown in the UF/IFAS Wakulla Extension Demonstration Garden are Chantenay Red and Long Imperator. They were planted in on February 21, 2015, with the Chantenay being the most productive cultivar.
To learn more about growing carrots in Wakulla County, contact your UF/IFAS Wakulla Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or http://wakulla.ifas.ufl.edu/