Crop of the month: Carrot

The Moon was full four nights ago so I’m thinking about harvest. You can see other posts in this series by following my ‘harvest’ tag. This month, let’s admire the carrot.

The British Carrot Growers Association (BCGA) promotes carrots (Daucus carota sativus) and parnips (Pastinaca sativa). You may recall how I named the parsnip as Crop of the Month two months ago. But today, the carrot.

Why do I call the carrot Crop of the Month in January? The Vegetarian Society says that the British carrot’s harvest season lasts from July to April. But that’s an underestimate. The BCGA says that ‘carrots are harvested in Britain almost 12 months of the year using the natural climates in different parts of the country and using different techniques.’ Even when the ground’s frozen, we can eat carrots which have been stored. So any time of year is carrot time. Eat Sensibly names the carrot as one of January’s best choices.

The virtual World Carrot Museum invites us to ‘discover the power of carrots’. The biology and history of this marvellous vegetable include a few surprises. For example, the wild carrot or Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) isn’t the same species as our cultivated carrot. They just have almost the same name. [Edit] I’ve lost track of where I saw this. Most authors say that Daucus carota is the ancestor of Daucus carota sativus, so I’ll stick with that.

Daucus carota sativus is grown in many countries (scroll down for a list). It comes in many colours – white, yellow, purple and bright orange. The orange varieties were bred in Holland in the 15th century. But people have been eating carrots for almost as long as people have been living in houses. About five thousand years ago, people grew the first domesticated carrots in the land that is now Iran.

Nowadays carrot growing in Britain, like other vegetable growing, happens mostly in East Anglia. Richard Crane and Rod Vaughan of Reading University tell us about the regional importance of horticulture in England and Wales (scroll down to page 16 for their map). That’s why carrots are important for farmers in Nottinghamshire.

The Centre for Alternative Land Use (CALU) provides a crop production guide for carrots. For amateur carrot gardeners, Allotment Growers provides this advice and the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) provides this advice.

This vegetable is so popular, so widely grown, that we can ask whether genetic modification (GM) has been done to it yet. The European Union (EU)-funded GMO Compass says that GM research is underway for carrots. The research concerns resistance to fungal and nematode infections, also improvements to the carrot’s quality. Field trials of GM carrots have been carried out in the Netherlands. But no GM carrot has yet been approved for commercial use.

If GM crops are grown, there’s concern that transgenes might escape. One way that might happen is that the GM crop might cross with its wild relatives. This would cause ‘introgression’ of the transgene into the wild population. It’s also called ‘horizontal transfer’ of the transgene. Here’s some science about how genes move around in wild carrot populations, and hence about the risk of introgression from future GM carrots into wild carrots.

So you’ve got your carrots. If you keep rabbits, beware: the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) says that a good rabbit diet won’t be too carroty – hay is more what they need. But your bunnies can enjoy carrots. So can you!

At this time of year, you can eat carrots in hearty winter meals. You can eat them in winter salads. You can eat them in carrot cake. A company which delivers boxes of vegetables, Abel and Cole, offers us these carrot recipes.

[Edit] Here’s some more about tasty, nutritious carrots.

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About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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13 Responses to Crop of the month: Carrot

  1. alyseleung says:

    I am glad there is a world carrot museum. Carrots are delicious, but I also like to see what else people do with them. A friend of mine once wore 30 pounds of carrots and nothing else, and ran around LA.

  2. sharechair says:

    My dog enjoys carrots, too. 🙂

  3. EqFe says:

    “But people have been eating carrots for almost as long as people have been living in houses. About five thousand years ago, people grew the first domesticated carrots in the land that is now Iran.” Probably half of the entries on carrots in my gardening books agree with this, and the others have various origens in Europe some as late as the 19th century in Europe. I think that the latter is due to cross breeding with Queen Anne’s lace.
    I use my carrot crop as a barometer of how my horrid clay soil is improving, over time my carrots have been growing longer and thicker. The one’s we buy in a local market (we’ve eaten all of ours from last year) are as much as a pound (litterally, I bought 7 pounds last week, and that was 8 carrots). No doubt grown in sand.
    I’ve never had any problems with disease or pests with carrots. Probably because they were never grown commercially near where I’ve gardened, and home gardeners don’t grow them often in heavy clay soil.

  4. Pingback: Celebrating carrots (even if they don’t give you night vision) | Science on the Land

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