California Carrots Are Available All Year
Carrots are grown around the world in temperate regions. In California we can find them all year long. The best tasting carrots are grown in cool weather, which brings out the deep colors and sweet flavor. Most large carrot growers will move their entire operation to different growing regions throughout the year. The transition is based on the weather and can vary year to year. In late winter/early spring from February to April, carrots are grown in the Imperial Valley, extending from the southern area of Coachella, past the Salton Sea and all the way down the border of Mexico. As the Imperial Valley warms up production moves to Bakersfield from May to June. In the middle of the summer Bakersfield is too warm to grow carrots, so production moves from July to October to Cuyama Valley near the Los Padres National Forest in Santa Barbara County. When the cooler fall months start up production moves back to Bakersfield from November to January. Demand is at its highest at the end of winter and beginning of spring when carrots are used in soups, stews and other comfort food.
Carrots come in all different kinds of colors from deep purple, violet, white, yellow to the most recognizable bright orange. Carrots are classified by their root shape and broken down into four main categories of cultivars. Chantenay carrots are shorter than other cultivars with broad shoulders and a blunt rounded tip. They are used mostly for processing. Danvers carrots are longer than Chantaney types and have a conical shape. They are eaten fresh and used for processing. Imperator carrots have a high sugar content with long and slender roots. They are the classic carrot you find in your local store. Nantes carrots are a deep brilliant orange and are revered in the culinary world for their beautiful cylinder shape (rounded both at the tip and bottom of the root), smooth skin, sweet taste and crunchy texture. They have been described as the “gold standard” for medium sized carrots. Nantes are very fragile and contain almost no core. They are not grown on a large commercial level because they don’t store or ship well and tent to split or crack when machine-harvested. They are the perfect choice for juicing because of their high moisture content and superb flavor.
Earl fed his 3 children only the Nantes variety of carrots when they were kids. Now that they are grown up they won’t eat any other type of carrot because they don’t have the sweet flavor they have come to love.
T&D Willey Farms grows incredibly flavorful Nantes carrots from October to May in Madera, CA, located in the Central San Joaquin Valley. Denesse Willey says that “juicier carrots are grown in the winter.” One of the biggest problems they face is foggy weather which can cause mildew and be a catalyst for disease pressure. The preferred growing conditions for carrots are drier weather. The Willeys plant every 4-7 days and overlap their plantings so they are never out of the market. It takes a few months from planting to the time of harvest. Nantes planted in January will be ready for harvest in April and May.
The Grimmway/Bunny Luv label is one of the largest organic carrot growers in California. They have about 20 different pack sizes including bunched, shredded, baby peeled, cliptop, table, jumbo and juicing carrots. Many are offered in both traditional and rainbow varieties and pack sizes can vary from a dozen to 25 pounds up to 50 pounds.
The best-selling carrot for Bunny Luv is the baby peeled orange carrot. Have you ever wondered, what exactly is a baby carrot? Baby peeled carrots have a smaller core and are grown very close together so they grow long and slender. The carrots are whittled down until the baby carrot is left. The trimmings from the carrot are not wasted. Any extra is used for shredded carrots and the remainder is sent to cattle ranches for feed.
Earl continues the discussion on carrots on this week’s An Organic Conversation radio show. As always you can download the podcast if you miss it live. What is your favorite carrot and how do you like to cook it? Share your favorite recipes on our Facebook page.
Susan’s Favorite Carrot Juice Recipe
Makes 4 cups
*2 bunches of Nantes or rainbow carrots
*10-15 pieces of mixed varieties of seasonal citrus (At this time of year I like Minneolas, Golden Nuggets and Honey Tangerine)
*2 inches of ginger
*2 inches of tumeric