Harvesting rainbow carrots is like digging for treasure; you never which color you’re going to get until you pull up the roots. I love growing purple, red, yellow, and white carrots in my garden as they’re just as easy to grow as orange varieties but add vibrant colors to raw and cooked dishes. You can buy pre-blended rainbow carrot seeds or you can mix your own. Keep reading to learn more about growing a rainbow of roots and the best colored carrots to plant in the garden.
What are rainbow carrots?
While orange carrots are now the norm, historically carrots had roots that were white, purple, or yellow. Carrots likely originated around Afghanistan and by the early 1400’s, we start to see orange carrots enter the historical record. It’s hard to say why orange carrots because so popular, but for a long time orange varieties were the only carrots available through seed catalogs. Recently however there has been a demand for rainbow carrots and gardeners can now choose from five main colors: orange, purple, white, red, and yellow. I’ve been growing rainbow carrots for over a decade in raised beds, containers, my polytunnel, and cold frames and am always excited to try new as well as new-to-me varieties.
Why grow rainbow carrots
For me the biggest reasons to grow rainbow carrots are fun and flavor. The fun comes from the brilliant jewel tones of the varieties which add excitement and interest to the vegetable patch. As for flavor, a carrot tastes like a carrot, right? Not quite. Rainbow carrots offer a range of flavors from the super mild roots of white varieties to the spicy-sweet taste of deep purple varieties like Black Nebula.
Growing a kaleidoscope of carrots is also a great way to engage children in the garden. Kids love to plant the seeds, water the seedlings, and harvest the roots. Who knows, they may even eat their vegetables!
The varied colors of rainbow carrots aren’t just pretty, they also have different nutritional benefits. According to the USDA carrots with red roots have lycopene and beta-carotene, while purple carrots have anthocyanin as well as beta and alpha carotene. Carrots are also packed with fiber, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C.
How to mix your own rainbow carrots
Many seed companies offer rainbow carrot seed mixes which contain compatible varieties of red, orange, white, yellow, or purple carrots. Compatible means they mature around the same time and require similar spacing. This makes it easier to grow and harvest the roots. If you decide to mix your own rainbow blend of carrots, it’s best to select carrots with similar maturity dates. Otherwise you may find some of your roots are ready to harvest while others are immature or overmature.
One of my favorite blends is to mix equal parts of Yellowstone (yellow), White Satin (white), Purple Haze (purple), Atomic Red (red) and Scarlet Nantes (orange). I add a quarter teaspoon of each variety to a clean container stirring them together. I plant carrots in spring, sowing the seeds about two to three weeks before the last expected spring frost, I also plant carrots again in mid-summer for an autumn crop of rainbow roots. Your custom blend of seeds should be stored in a cool, dry place and used within a year.
How to plant rainbow carrots
I have in-depth advice on how to seed carrots HERE, but below you’ll find a quick guide to planting rainbow carrots.
Step 1 – Choose the right site. It should offer full sun (at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sun each day) and deep, loose soil. If your soil is shallow or clay-based, stick to compact varieties of carrots that only grow 5 to 6″ long. Before sowing seeds, prepare the bed by removing any weeds and amending the soil with an inch of compost.
Step 2 – Sow the seeds. Direct sow the seeds planting them a quarter to a half inch deep and try to space the seeds a third to a half inch apart. This will minimize the need to thin later on. Carrot seeds are small and it can be hard to space them evenly. If you prefer, sow pelleted seeds which are easier to plant.
Step 3 – Cover the seeds with a scant quarter inch of soil or vermiculite and water the bed well. Use a gentle spray of water from a hose nozzle to prevent the newly planted seeds from washing away. Water often to maintain a consistently moist soil until the seeds germinate and the seedlings are growing well.
Step 4 – Thin the seedlings. Once the rainbow carrot seedlings are two to three inches tall, thin them to one to one and a half inches apart. When you eventually begin to harvest, pull every second root to leave space for the remaining carrots to keep growing.
Rainbow carrots: the best varieties to grow:
Before I share my favorite rainbow carrot varieties, I want to point out that there is actually a carrot called Rainbow. It’s not a mixture of colored varieties but is a hybrid that produces different colored roots. The roots of Rainbow vary in color from orange to gold to pale yellow to white. The benefit of growing this variety is that you get a color range, but you also have the roots mature uniformly at the same time. The downside is that you don’t get red or purple roots from this hybrid.
Keep reading to learn more about the many purple, yellow, red, and white carrot varieties available from seed companies.
- Yellowstone (73 days) – Yellowstone is a popular yellow variety with pale golden roots that grow up to 8” long. It has a lovely mild carrot flavour and is delicious fresh, steamed, and roasted. It also offers intermediate resistant to several common carrot diseases.
- Yellowbunch (75 days) – This is an Imperator-type carrot with narrow, tapered roots that are bright sunflower-yellow in color. They can grow up to 9 inches in length, but are only around an inch across at the shoulders. Plant in deep, loose soil for the longest, straightest roots.
- Gold Nugget (68 days) – Gold Nugget yields a uniform crop of medium-long carrots that are 5 to 6” in length. This is a Nantes-type carrot with cylindrical shaped roots that have rounded blunt ends and a good choice for shallow or clay soils. It’s relatively early to mature and has crunchy, lightly sweet roots.
- Jaune du Doubs (72 days) – An heirloom variety, Jaune de Doubs is a good choice for spring or fall harvesting. The slender, tapered roots grow 5 to 7” long and have bright yellow skin and interiors. Some roots may have green shoulders. The flavor is mild when raw and sweeter when cooked.
- White Satin (70 days) – White Satin is a fast-growing carrot with creamy white roots and green shoulders. The tops are tall and grow up to 18”, but can break off when pulled. I therefore prefer to lift the roots from the soil with my garden fork. Expect a bumper crop of 8 to 9” long carrots that are very juicy and lightly sweet. Great for juicing.
- Lunar White (75 days) – This pale colored carrot is out of this world! The pure white roots reach lengths up to 8” long and like White Satin, often have green shoulders. We harvest anytime the carrots are 6” long and enjoy this variety raw and cooked. Lunar White has a mild carrot flavor and is popular with kids.
- Dragon (75 days) – I love the magenta-purple skin and bright orange interiors of Dragon. This is a chantenay-type carrot which means it is a compact variety with broad shoulders that taper to a point. The roots grow 5 to 7” long and have thin, smooth skin which cleans easily – no need to peel!
- Purple Sun (78 days) – If you’re looking for a purple carrot with dark purple color all the way through, plant Purple Sun. The roots are 8 to 10” long, smooth, and tapered. The plants have strong, vigorous tops and this variety is bolt tolerant, holding its quality for a long period in the garden.
- Deep Purple (73 days) – The roots of Deep Purple are deep purple, almost black with the color maintained from skin to core. The roots are 7 to 8” long and have tall, strong tops that don’t break easily when the carrots are pulled.
- Purple Haze (73 days) – Purple Haze is an All-America Selections winning carrot popular for its very sweet roots. The roots are long and slender, reaching lengths up to 10” and the skin is vibrant purple with hints of the orange interior. When sliced into carrot ‘coins’, the eye-catching dual color of Purple Haze is revealed.
- Purple Elite (75 days) – Unlike other purple carrot varieties which have purple or orange interiors, the inside color of Purple Elite is bright golden yellow. It’s a great variety to plant in spring as the bolt-resistant roots can persist in the garden longer than other varieties. The roots grow up to 9” long.
- Black Nebula (75 days) – If you’re looking for the darkest purple carrot, Black Nebula is the variety to grow. The long, slender roots are deep purple inside and out and are very juicy – perfect for juicing in a juicer! The flavor is sweet and it maintains its color even after cooking.
- Malbec (70 days) – Malbec is a beautiful, early maturing red carrot with blush-colored roots that are often purply towards the tops. This is a vigorous variety with roots that grow up to 10” long and strong, tall tops. The flavor is crisp and sweet.
- Atomic Red (75 days) – I first began growing Atomic Red carrots a decade ago and still love to plant this variety in my spring and autumn garden. The roots average 8 to 9” in length and have brilliant red skin and interiors.
- Kyoto Red (75 days) – This is a Japanese carrot and has rosy red roots and tall, healthy tops. The carrots are smooth with red skin and interiors and can grow up to a foot in length. I like to plant seeds in mid-summer for a fall and winter harvest.
- Red Samurai (75 days) – Described as a ‘true red’ carrot, Red Samurai has deep watermelon-red skin and flesh. The unique color holds up well when cooked. I love to enjoy this variety raw as the roots are sweet and crisp.
How to eat rainbow carrots
Rainbow carrots can be enjoyed in all the same ways you eat orange carrots. That said, I avoid adding purple carrots to soup and stew recipes as their vibrant hue can leach out into the dish and turn it an unappealing purple-grey color. I love roasted rainbow carrots, which is an easy side dish to make and only uses a couple of ingredients. Place the roots in a small bowl and toss with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Then spread them, in a single layer, on a baking sheet or sheet pan. Roast them in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes on 375F. The roasting process brings out the sweetness in the roots. You can also drizzle maple syrup over the carrots for an extra sweet kick, or add sprigs of thyme or other fresh herbs to the pan before you roast. If you love root vegetables, cut chunks of sweet potatoes or parsnips to roast alongside the carrots.
Did you know that you can also eat the tops of carrots? Carrot leaves, or greens, are nutrient-dense and delicious. I use them to make a fresh pesto or chop them finely into a chimichurri sauce.
If you want to learn how to harvest carrots year round from garden beds or cold frames (home-grown carrots for Christmas!), be sure to check out my award-winning, best-selling book, The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener.
For more reading on growing carrots and other root crops, please visit the following articles:
- How to plant and thin carrot seedlings
- When to harvest carrots
- How to grow carrots in containers
- Learn how to protect carrots for winter harvesting
- When to harvest beets
- Growing beets from seed: Two easy techniques
Do you grow rainbow carrots in your garden?