Once in a while I’ll find volunteer carrots in the garden — tiny fern-like sprouts poking up from in between the mulch, or growing happily next to the numerous volunteer squash that seem to pop up all over the place after a new layer of compost has been laid.
These volunteer carrots come from seeds that have flown from nearby beds of flowering carrots. I usually have a few plants flowering at the end of the season, and not because they’ve been in the ground for two years.
While carrots are technically biennials, they often behave like annuals in warm climates. A seed sown in our mild winters, while temperatures are fluctuating between warm and cool, will be tricked into thinking it’s already gone through a winter at the end of its first year.
When spring rolls around just a couple months later, the plant will produce a tall, thin stalk with lacy, umbrella-like blooms reminiscent of Queen Anne’s lace (as the two hail from the same family, Umbelliferae, known for its distinctive flowers called umbels). Umbels (which are also seen on flowering parsnip, parsley, cilantro, dill, and fennel) are very attractive to pollinators, so you should always let a few of your Umbelliferae go to seed when they’re spent.
I pulled the tiny carrots alongside a “regular” carrot, which probably should’ve been harvested much sooner, as it rivals the colossal carrot I’d grown a couple of years ago!
The beauty of volunteer carrots is the little surprise you find at the base of the stem… Will it be magenta, orange, white? They look like they belong on a plate in a dollhouse, but I love to use them as garnish on a salad plate. Like microgreens, only prettier. And they still pack all the powerful phytonutrients that microgreens are known for — despite their tiny size, microgreens have been found to contain four to six times more nutrients than their mature counterparts. Now that makes volunteer carrots seem much more special in the garden!