It's fall, and gardeners' thoughts turn to the wealth of colorful carrots maturing underground, in anticipation of the sweet flavor brought on by the warm days and cool nights. With planning, however, you can dig fresh carrots through much more of the gardening season -- year-round, in fact, in some areas of the country. From the new, early, full-size varieties that develop good flavor in midsummer's heat, to the large, late types that keep their flavor and quality in the ground for months, to the smaller, fast-growing varieties that you can plug in for quick crops throughout the season, there's a carrot for every month.
No matter where you live or where you garden, you'll get the best carrot crop if you make staggered plantings of several different types. Choose varieties according to use and when you want to harvest. Carrots grow best in temperatures from 40 degrees F to 85 degrees F, so you can plant anytime you have 65 days or so in this range. Later crops will mature more slowly, however, because the days are shorter and the light is less intense. Temperatures in the low 20s will kill the tops, but the roots keep in fine shape as long as the soil doesn't freeze. That means that in southernmost regions, you can plant nearly year-round.
NGA consulted with university vegetable crop specialists and seed company experts to compile this list of high-quality carrots. Nantes and Amsterdam types, good for fresh eating and juicing, are cylindrical and blunt-ended. Chantenays are wide-shouldered, tapering to a point, so are recommended for heavy soils; the smaller, similarly shaped Danvers have more dry matter, so store well.
All Season Long (quick growing; good for succession planting)
'Baby Spike' (50 days): matures at 3 to 4 inches, and holds its size well past maturity; fresh eating.
'Baby Sweet Hybrid' (49 days): 3-inch baby carrot with rich color inside and out and strong tops.
'Minicor' (55-60 days): 3 to 4 inch-long baby carrot that stays tender in the ground; fresh eating and canning.
'Suko' (55-60 days): 2-1/2 inches; good for window boxes and containers, heavy or shallow soils; fresh eating and freezing.
'Thumbelina' (60-70 days): round, with very smooth skin; flavor is good at 1/2-inch long and holds up to golf-ball-size, good for heavy or rocky soils and containers; very good for baking; All-America Selections winner for 1992.
Early to Main Season (spring sowing for summer harvest; many are flavorful at different stages of maturity)
'Armstrong' (65 days): 7 to 8 inches long; Amsterdam-type that is similar to 'Mokum' (see below), but open-pollinated; holds a month after maturing; fresh eating.
'Earlibird Nantes' (50 days): extra-early Nantes type that reaches almost 8 inches in sandy soils (longer in loamy soils); bright orange with strong tops.
'King Midas' (65 days): Imperator type; colors and sweetens up early, so can be harvested at the 3- to 4-inch stage or left to reach full size of 8 to 9 inches; high in vitamin A.
'Kinko' (55 days): early, 4-inch Chantenay type recommended for shallow or heavy soils; quality is best when harvested young; fresh eating.
'Kuroda' (60 days): 6- to 8-inch Japanese Chantenay that often exceeds one pound but tends to crack and split when overgrown; high-yielding; stores well for fresh eating in winter and good for juice.
'Mokum' (70 days): Amsterdam type that colors and sweetens early, but will mature in the ground to full size of 6 inches and full flavor; very rich in vitamin A; especially good raw and for juicing.
'Napoli' (60-65 days): early, 7-inch Nantes type; strong tops; some resistance to Alternaria blight.
'Narova' (56 days): early 7 1/2 Nantes type that's high in vitamin A and is extra sweet; good for fresh eating or juicing.
'Nelson' (56 days): early, 6-inch Nantes type that matures with good flavor during early and midsummer heat; fresh eating.
'Touchon' (75 days): French heirloom Nantes type; good tasting at any size but will reach 8 inches; fresh eating and very good for juicing.
'Touchon Deluxe' (58 days) is a 7-inch strain selected for extreme earliness and exceptional color.
Main Season (spring to early summer sowing for late summer to fall harvest; develops best flavor at full maturity)
'Bertan' (70 days): 6-inch Nantes; holds its very sweet flavor exceptionally well; fresh eating, freezing and storing.
'Bolero' (72 days): 6 to 7 inch hybrid Nantes with tolerance to Alternaria blight; stores well.
'Caro Pride' (72 days): 6 to 7 inch Nantes; superb sweet flavor for fresh eating; resistance to Alternaria blight; widely adaptable.
'Express' (70 days): 5- to 6- inch, fast-maturing Nantes type; some cavity spot resistance.
'Fly Away' (72 days): 6- to 7-inch hybrid Nantes that's resistant to the carrot rust fly; good for fresh eating and freezing.
'Imperial Chantenay' (75 days): 4 to 5 inches long, stocky, tapered; especially good for heavy or sticky soils.
'Ingot' (70 days): 8 inch long Nantes type with very high vitamin A
'Juwarot' (70 days): 5- to 8-inch Nantes type; very high in vitamin A; fresh eating, freezing, stores well
'Liberno' (75 days): 7 inch Chantenay-Nantes hybrid; resistance to splitting and green shoulders; pulls easily; holds flavor well after cooking.
'Monique' (68 days): a 7-inch Nantes hybrid with a rich flavor and high vitamin A.
'Nantes Tip Top' (73 days): 7-inch Nantes type, with stronger tops than other Nantes varieties; adapted to a wide range of soils.
'Red-Cored 3-Supreme Chantenay' (70 days): improved version of original: slightly larger (4 inches long) with smoother skin and better color; fresh eating, canning, freezing and storage.
'Short 'n' Sweet' (68 days): 4-inch Chantenay bred for heavy or poor soils.
Late Season (early to midsummer sowing for late fall to winter harvest or storage)
'Artist' (65 days): 7- to 8-inch Nantes type; flavor best when sown in early summer and harvested in fall; fresh eating and storage. Scored highly with NG testers in 1993.
'Camberley' (74 days): 6 inch Danvers hybrid; good for heavy soils; holds well in the ground.
'Fakkel' (90 days): 8- to 10-inch Danvers type; maintains eating quality in the ground and in storage into March and good for juicing.
'Merida' (75 days): 6- to 8-inch Nantes type; excellent for fall planting and spring harvest in the Northwest. Scored highly with NG testers in 1992.
'Rumba' (72 days): 6- to 7-inch Nantes type that matures slowly and resists oversizing; recommended for fall harvest (tops hold up well in frosty fall weather) and storage; adapted to a wide range of soil types.
'Scarlet Keeper' (85 days): 7- to 8-inch Danvers that's good for storage.
'Tamino' (90 days): 10-inch-long Nantes type that requires deep humusy or loamy soil; holds all winter in the ground without losing quality.
Photography by Didier Delmas