The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Why carrots split and twist

Carrot shapes

Gnarly carrotIt's hard not to be intrigued by the shape of carrots when they come out of the ground twisted or gnarly. For example, the photo to the left (from our 2009 garden) made me think one carrot was giving his buddy a hug.

However, after a while, most gardeners realize that the goal is long, straight carrots that are easy to clean and chop. So why, we begin to wonder, are some carrots fine, upstanding members of our gardening community...while others split and twist and make trouble?

The answer is usually in your soil. The carrots in the photo to the left probably should have been thinned, while the carrots on the right side of the photo at the top of this post likely hit something hard in the soil and split to grow around it. Since we don't have any rocks, those were likely tough spots within the earth itself, a sign that our soil isn't yet perfect. Luckily, more of our carrots come out of the ground long and straight every year --- a good sign!

Sorting carrots

I harvested one of our beds of spring carrots early this year because the plants were starting to rot. It's possible the rot is due to our recent bout of wet weather (2.7 inches in the last week). Perhaps more likely (since only one bed was affected and the roots are rotting from the tips up) is carrot fly larvae tunneling down into the roots. I'll probably pull the other three beds this week just in case.

On the plus side, I planted twice as many carrots as we needed so Abigail could get off the storebought-carrot wagon. So I sorted our harvest into straight, easy-to-handle carrots for the humans and partially rotted or gnarly carrots for the goats. Even though I had to take care of twice as many beds in the garden, I think the goats just saved us time overall since I don't have to scrub those gnarly roots!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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No rocks in your soil?? How do you manage that? Some of my beds are full of them.

I'm going through carrot-sorting triage myself lately, so I'm interested in your take on rotting tips, etc. How's the flavor in yours? Mine tend to be rather tasteless, and not sweet.

Comment by Jennifer Tue Jul 7 20:37:29 2015

Jennifer --- I can't take credit for the lack of rocks. It's just one of those side effects of gardening in silt soil --- the stream that built our dirt deposited silt here instead of rocks. I understand that New Englanders, especially, have a hard time of it with rocks due to the glacier-moved sediment, which is much larger than our water-moved sediment.

As for flavor, there are several culprits there. Summer carrots just aren't as tasty as fall carrots since hot weather prevents the production of sugars. The very tastiest carrots are harvested after a few light frosts.

But you can get pretty good carrots at this time of year by harvesting them young. Unlike many vegetables, it's not better to wait until carrots are big and mature. Harvest when they're still thin and dainty and they'll be tastier!

Finally, variety is also key. I like to choose super-sweet carrots for human consumption that tend to be just the size of a finger rather than big like grocery store carrots even when mature. They often have "Sugar" in the title and are much tastier.

Comment by anna Tue Jul 7 20:41:21 2015

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