Did you know that there’s a carrot museum? Well, there is. It may only exist virtually, but it’s definitely alive and frequently updated. This month at North Powder Charter School, we chose carrots as our Harvest of the Month (see Oregon Harvest for Schools for umpteen activities and posters featuring Oregon-grown vegetables). We’re just sowing our carrots in Oregon right now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy Oregon-grown carrots in April! Check out Stahlbush Island Farms, a sustainable farm located in the Willamette valley, where among their many frozen products you can find a classic mix of Oregon-grown carrots, corn and peas. Farms like Stahlbush and companies like Willamette Valley Fruit Company help keep Oregon-grown produce and berries available year-round via frozen products. It’s also easy to freeze your own berries from an Oregon “U-Pick” farm like Draper Girls Country Farm in Parkdale (bonus: beautiful view of Mt. Hood as you pick!)
Back to our topic at hand: carrots. How did this flavorful root end up on tables all over the world? Well, I did my research and found that histories are often conflicting, so please keep this in mind as you read. Most sources say the carrot’s wild cousin, the umbel-flowered wild carrot Daucus carota, a.k.a. Queen Anne’s Lace, originated in Afghanistan (and perhaps in Europe as well). Through selective breeding, we arrived at Daucus carota subsp. sativus (Latin for “cultivated,” denoting a domesticated species). The varieties of carrots seem endless–from the golf ball-like ‘Parisian Market’ to the scarlet-cored ‘Chantenay.’ It’s said that the predominance of orange carrots stems from the late 16th century Dutch revolt against Spanish rule, during which Dutch carrot farmers grew mostly orange carrots to show support for the revolt’s leader, William of Orange. The revolution led to the formation of the Dutch Republic, which lasted until 1795, and to a flood of beta-Carotene-rich orange taproots.
In the school garden, we’ll be planting ‘Red Cored Chantenay’ (from High Mowing Organic Seeds) in raised beds; deep, sandy/loamy soil works best for carrots, but we can’t always have what we want! Raised beds allow for a greater depth of cultivation–or loosening–of the upper layer of soil, which helps our beloved root crop push its way into a fully formed carrot. Varieties like the Parisian Market are easier to grow in more clayey soils because of their small, round shape. While you’re planting and harvesting your carrots this season, check out this resource from Oregon State University Extension for great tips. And if you pull some brilliantly orange variety out of your garden this year, don’t forget to thank the Dutch.