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Queen Anne's lace is ancestor of today's carrots

Looking a lot like lacy-white umbrellas standing atop 3-foot stems, the roadsides are covered with Queen Anne's lace (Daucus carota sativus), a wild-growing weed that's not bad looking — for a weed, that is.

This weed's namesake, incidentally, Queen Anne (1665-1714), was the queen of England, Ireland and Scotland from 1702 to 1714. Plus legend has it, since Queen Anne was fond of wearing and making lace, the tiny red dot at the center of each stem's 2-inch flower cluster first appeared when Queen Anne bloodied some lace she was working on, after pricking her finger with a sewing need.

Time to grow carrots

Native to Europe and Asia, Queen Anne's lace is the ancestor of today's hybridized carrots. In fact, its thin 3-inch-long white roots are pleasant tasting when they are harvested during this biennial's first growing season, then cooked until soft.

In any case, seeing Queen Anne's lace in bloom reminded me that it was time to sow some carrot seeds.

Why?

Its lacy flowers will soon produce seeds, and carrots sown now will be ready to harvest in a couple of months.

Spring is also a good time of year to sow carrot seeds. But regardless of when they're sown, carrots grow best in full sun and in soil that drains freely. Although they'll also grow OK in a semi-shady area, they should still be grown in soil that's been tilled to at least as deep as the carrot's variety is expected to grow, because carrots grow vertically in soil.

Which reminds me, the shorter a carrot variety grows, the sooner it ripens. Shorter types are also less likely to fork or become deformed in stony soil.

That's why I'm especially partial to a variety called Little Finger. Sold by Burpee, its tasty, orange roots grow 1 inch thick and just 4 inches deep.

By the way, carrots have also been bred to produce roots in shades of red, yellow, purple and white, as well as orange. Even so, I think Queen Anne would probably have preferred white.

This week in the garden

To conserve moisture, recent hot and dry weather has caused many of our perennial plants to stop producing flowers and leaves. Still, I won't water our plants unless I see signs of wilting. Then when they do require watering, I'll thoroughly soak their roots.

On the other hand, I'm watering our annual plants — such as warm-season vegetables — every few days. Since their roots are more shallow, they can more easily perish.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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