Readily available year-round in every grocery store, carrots appear to be a pretty ordinary vegetable. But hybridization and the return of old varieties have given cooks, diners and children new inspiration. Carrots in myriad colors and shapes are occasionally available in specialty stores in season. By choosing carefully, Rogue Valley gardeners can have similar diversity.

All carrots are in the same family, Daucus carota. While we think orange is their "normal" color, it was popularized by the Dutch to honor their national color. Other colors have been grown for a long time, including white carrots way back in the Middle Ages. Now gold, red, white and purple varieties are available. It will be a few years before we'll know all the varieties that will do well in the Rogue Valley, says Wendy Perslow, Jackson County master gardener. Here are the varieties Oregon State University says should be successful here:

Scarlet Nantes a darker orange red carrot that is most commonly grown in the valley. They are cylindrical and fat, typically between 6 to 8 inches long and mature in 65 to 70 days.

Red-cored Chantenay This orange carrot's core is darker than the surrounding flesh. About 6 inches long and stocky, this is the carrot to grow for storage it gets even sweeter! About 75 days from seeding to maturity.

Yellowstone A long season carrot (95 days), seeds develop into huge 12 to 14-inch canary yellow carrots. Sweet and crunchy, this is a heat-resistant root which does well in heavy and rocky soils. Sounds like a winner.

White Satin The lighter the carrot color, the milder the carrot taste. This could be a carrot for carrot-holdouts (you know who they are). Very crisp and sweet, with slender, cylindrical 8-inch roots. Matures in only 65 days.

Thumbelina These small, round carrots mature in about 50 days. They are a good choice for both heavy soils and containers. Another Rogue Valley winner.

No matter the size, shape or color, carrots are a great garden plant. "They are a beautiful plant to grow with those long, delicate leaves," says Perslow. "There's nothing like the sheer pleasure of watching a child pull a carrot out of the ground."

caring for carrots

Sow large carrots in garden rows or raised beds and smaller varieties in containers. They thrive in full sun and prefer light, rich soil. But, germinating carrots is challenging. Medford Grange Co-op gardening specialist Pam Rouhier developed a technique to get carrots growing. To maintain moisture, she covers newly planted seeds with 1 by 6-inch boards. After they sprout (about 14 days), she removes the boards and waters gently.

Prepare and care for carrots:
Remove rocks and till soil to about 10 inches or use raised beds with imported soil.
Incorporate organic matter and soil inoculant or mycorrhiza bacteria.
Sow seeds, 1/4 to 1/8-inch deep.
Seeds too wet or too dry won't sprout.
Fertilize carefully. Excess nitrogen deforms carrots, so Rouhier uses bulb food.
Thin carrots to about 3 inches apart (or you'll have thin, deformed carrots).
Use organic sticky bug traps to ensnare aphids, leaf miner flies, thrips and gnats.
Keep rust maggots and crawling insects out by using "floating" row covers, resting on the plants, secured along the edges.