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A home-grown carrot

A home-grown carrot

Choosing which variety of carrot to grow is an important decision for the home gardener. Carrots are a staple in many gardens, and it is important to grow the right variety to match your garden and your culinary cravings.

While there are countless carrot varieties available, most of them are divided into 5 main categories: Nantes, Imperator, Chantenay, Danvers, and Ball/Mini carrots. There are also many heirloom, or heritage, varieties that have been around for hundreds of years that are still remarkable additions to the modern garden. Every carrot has unique characteristics and each is suited to different growing conditions.

With so many carrots to choose from, it is often difficult to decide which one to grow in your garden. Let’s look at the different types of carrots, plus a few notable varieties that do well in the home garden.

The 5 Types of Carrots

All of the modern carrots we enjoy today are descended from the wild carrot native to the Middle East. The early history of the carrot is slightly obscured, with some early records possibly indicating its medicinal and culinary use in ancient Egypt and the Persian Empire. The ancient Greeks and Romans also used these not-so-great-tasting varieties medicinally, and the carrots we enjoy today spread from what is now Afghanistan to the Orient and Europe where they were cultivated into sweet tasting roots in the 13th century.

Queen Anne's Lace

Wild carrots, commonly called Queen Anne’s Lace, slowly spread around the world and are now found in most countries. They were “accidentally” introduced into North America as a weed seed by European settlers.

Open Pollinated VS Hybrid (F1)

Carrot seeds that your buy are either open pollinated (OP) or a hybrid (F1). Open pollinated seeds are the result of pollen being shared between two similar carrots, which produce the same variety. Many carrots are hybrids meaning one carrot is pollinated with another variety to produce a new variety with a desired characteristic (note that hybridization is not the same as the dangerous practice of genetic modification).

Careful cultivation has led to the development of 5 main cultivars, each with its own distinct shape and characteristics:

  1. Nantes
  2. Imperator
  3. Chantenay
  4. Danvers
  5. Ball or miniature
Coated carrot seeds

Coated carrot seeds

1. Nantes

Nantes carrots originate from the coast of France and have been popular for over 200 years. They are sweet, crunchy, with a very cylindrical medium-length taproot and a blunt end. Nantes grow in a variety of conditions and are very popular with home gardeners and market gardens, though some of the varieties can be a bit finicky to grow.

My first experience with Nantes was at a farmer’s market, where a vendor I worked beside sold some of the most delicious carrots you could buy. They actually imported their seeds from France, but most local seed suppliers sell very good quality seeds. There are over 40 varieties of Nantes carrots, but here are some of the most popular.

Scarlet Nantes carrots are one of the easiest to grow and out-perform many other Nantes varieties. They are a fairly uniform 18cm (7") when mature, but they sweeten up early to be harvested as baby carrots. They store well and are good for freezing.

Scarlet Nantes seeds often sell out fast at garden centres, so order them quickly if you want them for your garden.

  • Days to Maturity: 65 to 70 days
  • Mature Size: 18cm (7")
  • When to Plant: Spring
  • Hybrid Status: Open Pollinated

Napoli are an extra-early hybrid that grow well in the spring and the fall. They are especially well suited to grow under season extensions for early sowing or a late harvest. They have good shape, texture, and flavour, getting very sweet after fall frost and can stay in the ground in temperate areas as a “winter” carrot. Napoli can also be harvested as baby carrots.

  • Days to Maturity: 58 days (longer for fall sowing)
  • Mature Size: 18cm (7")
  • When to Plant: Spring and fall
  • Hybrid Status: Hybrid (F1)

Bolero are a great tasting hybrid that is good to store and even winters well in the ground. They are also resistant to powdery mildew and certain blights that affect carrots. Bolero carrots are thick, heavy, and bright orange.

  • Days to Maturity: 75 days
  • Mature Size: 20cm (8")
  • When to Plant: Spring
  • Hybrid Status: Hybrid (F1)

Little Fingers are one of the best baby carrots out there, with a nice texture with golden-orange skins. Because they are so short, Little Fingers are great for container growing and can also do well in heavier soils. Best for eating fresh or pickling.

  • Days to Maturity: 60 days
  • Mature Size: 10cm (4") or harvest early carrots at 8-9cm (3-3.5")
  • When to Plant: Spring and summer
  • Hybrid Status: Open Pollinated

White Satin carrots are actually a Nantes/Imperator cross that have a Danvers-shaped root so it is tricky to put them in any one category, but they are worth mentioning because they are crisp, juicy, and grow well in a variety of conditions.

  • Days to Maturity: 65 to 68 days
  • Mature Size: 25cm (10")
  • When to Plant: Spring and summer
  • Hybrid Status: Hybrid (F1)

2. Imperator

Imperator carrots grow much bigger than most other varieties. Also known as the shipping carrot, they are the most common type grown by commercial operations and this is what you usually find on the grocery store shelves. In the home garden, they are very large and sweet and grow best in deep, loose soil. The tops are fast growing which can help you locate them early for easy weeding, and they can be bunched nicely for good aesthetics.

Imperators are excellent storage carrots and can be eaten fresh, boiled, steamed, or roasted.

Sugarsnax 54 carrots have extremely uniform, straight roots that are sweet and tender. They are high in beta carotene which gives them a deep orange colour. They are quite resistant to several types of blight and they are a very popular garden carrot.

  • Days to Maturity: 68 days
  • Mature Size: 24cm (9")
  • When to Plant: Spring and summer
  • Hybrid Status: Hybrid (F1)

Yellowbunch carrots are a sweet yellow variety that shows resistance to blight and mildew. They have a mild flavour for fresh eating, but they also cook well as they keep their bright colour after cooking.

  • Days to Maturity: 75 days
  • Mature Size: 20cm (8")
  • When to Plant: Spring
  • Hybrid Status: Hybrid (F1)

Viper carrots are very long and narrow, not getting much bigger than 2cm (3/4") at the top when fully mature. Because of their skinny nature, they can be densely planted for a high yield in a limited space. They are very crisp with little to no core.

  • Days to Maturity: 120 days
  • Mature Size: 30cm (12")
  • When to Plant: Early spring
  • Hybrid Status: Hybrid (F1)
Healthy carrot tops

Healthy carrot tops

3. Chantenay

Chantenay are top heavy, thick carrots that are short and broad which makes them ideal for growing in heavy or shallow soil. They grow vigorously and should be harvested on time or they can become woody. Despite this, these carrots are sweet with a good flavour which store very well and are also excellent for canning.

Royal Chantenay are big, orange carrots that are very sweet and excellent for juicing, freezing, and canning. They can be grown very big and broad, and are good for market gardens as they are usually very uniform.

  • Days to Maturity: 70 days
  • Mature Size: 12-15cm (5-6")
  • When to Plant: Spring and early summer
  • Hybrid Status: Open Pollinated

Kuroda Nova are sweet and tender for eating fresh and making excellent carrot juice. They were originally bred in Asia and can be harvested throughout the harvest as small baby carrots or when they are larger. Kuroda are often considered their own type of carrot in the East, but many western seed manufacturers think of them as a Chantenay variety.

  • Days to Maturity: 68 to 110 days
  • Mature Size: 18-20cm (7-8")
  • When to Plant: Spring and summer
  • Hybrid Status: Open Pollinated

Hercules carrots are a nice even cone shape and orange colour. They are good for eating fresh and also store well over winter. They are a very popular Chantenay variety.

  • Days to Maturity: 65 days
  • Mature Size: 18cm (7”)
  • When to Plant: Spring and summer
  • Hybrid Status: Hybrid (F1)

Dragon carrots have orange flesh with a thin magenta-purple skin. They are quite firm with a good crunch and flavourful. Unfortunately, the skin colour fades when the carrots are cooked. The tops grow quickly and will compete with early weeds.

  • Days to Maturity: 75 days
  • Mature Size: 12-18cm (5-7”)
  • When to Plant: Spring
  • Hybrid Status: Open Pollinated

4. Danvers

These carrots were developed in Danvers, Massachusetts in the 1800s, hence the name. They usually have a nice tapered shape with rich colour and good flavour. They grow well in many different conditions and are generally easy to grow and care for.

Danvers 126 are a very hardy carrot that are heat tolerant and grow in a variety of conditions. They also grow well over winter in warm climates. Danvers 126 have a thick, sturdy top and a deep orange colour. They store very well and are one of the sweeter Danvers.

  • Days to Maturity: 65-75 (Spring/Summer), 84-97 (Fall/Winter)
  • Mature Size: 15-18cm (6-7”)
  • When to Plant: Spring and summer
  • Hybrid Status: Open Pollinated

Danvers Half-Long are so-called for the shorter growing season and not the size of the carrot. They are sweet and crunchy and with very uniform carrots.

  • Days to Maturity: 55 days
  • Mature Size: 15-18cm (6-7”)
  • When to Plant: Spring and summer
  • Hybrid Status: Open Pollinated
Carrots in the garden

Carrots in the garden

Ball or Miniature

Baby carrots that you buy in the store and not real mini-carrots. They are actually pieces of large carrots that are machine shaved to a perfect little shape. While this is not something we can grow in our garden, nature (and careful breeding) has even better tiny carrots for us. These tiny carrots are ideal for growing in containers or in heavy shallow soil that is unsuitable for full-sized carrots.

While all carrots can be picked when they are small, here are a few varieties that are perfect for the bitesize snack.

Paris Market are a spherical carrot the size of a large radish. They can be eaten fresh, cooked whole, or added to soups and stews. Sometimes called Parisian Market, they are sweet with a good texture.

  • Days to Maturity: 65-70 days
  • Mature Size: 3cm (1”) spherical
  • When to Plant: Spring
  • Hybrid Status: Open Pollinated

Babette are a French baby carrot that can be harvested small or left to get large.

  • Days to Maturity: 55 days for baby carrots, 70 days for full-sized.
  • Mature Size: 7-10cm (3-4”) baby carrots
  • When to Plant: Spring and summer
  • Hybrid Status: Open Pollinated

Short ‘n Sweet are actually a Chantenay that mature quickly into a little, good tasting root that is easy to grow. They outperform many other varieties in poor, heavy soils.

  • Days to Maturity: 68 days
  • Mature Size: 10cm (4”)
  • When to Plant: Spring and summer
  • Hybrid Status: Open Pollinated

Heirloom Carrots

There are many carrots that do not fit into the above categories but are unique varieties that have been passed down, sometimes for hundreds of years, to give us a unique taste of history. There is a great debate amongst growers about what heirloom or heritage carrots mean: some say it is any seed that has been around for 50 years or more, while others say they are over 100 years old.

Heritage vs heirloom? Some growers also distinguish between the terms “heirloom” and “heritage”. While they typically both mean the same thing, heritage is sometimes used to distinguish seeds that have an ethnic or cultural significance.

Without attempting to split hairs, let us look at a few varieties of carrots that are not part of the five main types discussed above and which give us a diverse gardening and culinary experience.

Manpukuji carrots are the mammoth of all carrots and can reach very impressive lengths. They were developed in Japan over 400 years ago. They grow best in raised beds to accommodate their size, and their impressive length can be achieved without artificial manipulation or fertilizing.

  • Days to Maturity: Leave in the ground as long as possible
  • Mature Size: 90cm (3ft), 30cm (1ft) in northern climates
  • When to Plant: Early spring
  • Hybrid Status: Open Pollinated

Black Nebula carrots are a deep purple carrot with a very nice flavour and are rich in vitamins and antioxidants. Black Nebula are one of the darkest carrots on the market and the juice can be used as a dye, and they are one of the few dark carrots that keep their colour after cooking. They are also very heat tolerant.

  • Days to Maturity: 75 days
  • Mature Size: 18-20cm (7-8")
  • When to Plant: Spring
  • Hybrid Status: Open Pollinated

Longue Rouge Sang carrots look like a beautiful rainbow, and the taste matches the looks. They are very adaptable and grow in a variety of conditions.

  • Days to Maturity: Not available, but said to be a fast developer
  • Mature Size: 15-18cm (6-7”)
  • When to Plant: Spring and summer
  • Hybrid Status: Open Pollinated
Almost ready for harvest

Almost ready for harvest

Carrots For Everyone

There are so many carrots to choose from, and one of the most exciting parts of winter is flipping through seed catalogues and choosing new varieties for spring. While it is always nice to stick with the tried-and-true varieties we are used to, it is sometimes best to mix things up a bit.

In our garden, we are going to focus on a few of the faster maturing varieties next year. I hope this article has inspired you to try your hand at some new varieties and see how they can help your garden flourish.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

Bellwether Farming (author) from Alberta, Canada on July 30, 2021:

Yes, Peggy Woods, it is exciting finding new varieties to grow. Carrots are a staple in our garden, and we want to try different varieties that might do better in our short growing season.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 28, 2021:

When I had a huge garden in Wisconsin many years ago, it was always fun looking through the seed catalogs and choosing different types of produce to grow. I did grow carrots one year but no longer remember the variety.

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