I can often be found in the garden munching a carrot I couldn’t resist pulling out of the soil and hosing off while I worked. All in the name of proper thinning, of course. Unlike the peas you might consider serving them with, carrots do not like to be too crowded.
It took me several years to get the hang of how to encourage decent carrot seed germination, but lately my carrot luck has extended all the way to the final stage of seed saving. Last fall was the first time I attempted to plant carrot seed I had “saved” by way of forgetting to harvest a couple of carrots that later went to see among the bean poles where I couldn’t see them. I hoped they were purple carrots, the part still sticking up out of the ground certainly didn’t look orange anymore, but when the seeds came up this spring, the roots were mostly a very pale and not especially tasty yellow. Carrots are an insect pollinated biennial, so chances are that either pollen from another carrot variety was introduced to my purple carrots, or the purple carrots I hoped I was letting go to seed were hybrids that wouldn’t breed true for the purple characteristic that I wanted.
This winter I set aside a much more carefully protected carrot patch in the back garden where a known variety of carrots was grouped together and no other carrots, or other umbels at all, were allowed to flower. I’m just now starting to see flower heads drying enough to save seed and can’t wait to try planting them once the rains start this fall.
The problem is that by the time you save enough carrots to get good cross-pollination, you have just made sure you will have enough carrot seed for an entire army of urban farmers, and their friends. For home use, I just save the seed from the best, largest, and usually first flowers, the Primary Umbels. They make the highest quality seed. If you care to nerd out on such things, the way I do, here’s seven pages worth of research on the facts. And, if you want to see a great picture of the actual carrot seeds, don’t miss this one from the Carrot Museum, yes, seriously, that shows a group of carrot seeds under a microscope. Check out all those tiny hooks!
And leave me a comment if you want to know where you can send an SASE for some free carrot seed!