"Two types of baby carrots exist: true baby carrots grown in the garden and full-size carrots that are peeled and sliced to look like baby carrots," said Nancy Pollard.
The "baby carrots" we purchase bagged at the grocer are actually peeled, shaped and polished slices. The shaping process was invented in the late 1980s by a California farmer to make twisted and misshapen carrots more appealing.
The leftovers are used for juice or animal feed. So shaped, processed "baby" carrots will look different than garden-grown baby carrots. Misshapen carrots grown in the home garden can also be sliced, shaped or juiced.
"There are many varieties of carrot available, in different colors and lengths," she said. "All varieties can be harvested early when young and slender. Some varieties are naturally petite and baby-like.
"Baby Spike has roots only 3 to 4 inches long and matures in just 52 days. Minicor is more slender, with a blunt tip and ready for harvest in 55 days. Little Finger takes 65 days and Short 'n Sweet has a broader shoulder, matures at 4 inches, is good for heavy or poor soil and matures in 68 days."
Carrots can be sown repeatedly in northern Illinois from tax day, April 15, until a little after Independence Day, July 4. Repeated planting spreads out the availability of fresh carrots from late June until the ground freezes.
Plant seeds one-fourth to one-half inch deep in April and May, or a little deeper when the soil is drier and warmer. Space seeds about one-third to one-half inch apart.
"Carrot seeds take about two weeks or more to germinate, so planting a single, quick-sprouting radish seed every 6 inches can help mark the rows," she said.
Pollard said that as carrots grow, you should thin them out, and enjoy the small ones that have been removed to give the others more room to grow.
"Baby carrot tops are not usually strong enough to stay attached to the carrot when pulled by the leaves, so dig them to minimize damage," she said.
"Use a vegetable brush to remove specks of soil from the carrots. Peel if desired. Raw or lightly cooked, carrots are naturally sweet."