Here’s some straight dope on keeping carrots from growing crookedly
Misshapen carrots are the nemesis of many gardeners, and though straight carrots don’t taste any better than gnarled or forked ones do, they sure are easier to use in the kitchen. As we come upon carrot planting time here in Western Pennsylvania, I thought I’d offer you some tips for growing perfect, straight carrots in our heavy clay soil.
Carrots can grow 7 or 8 inches long, depending on the variety, so a deep seed bed is a must for developing straight, uniform roots. Loose, friable soil that’s tilled 10 to 12 inches deep is the first step to growing beautiful carrots.
Because the roots will fork if they hit an obstacle (even a small one), carefully remove any rocks and debris from the soil as you’re preparing the seed bed.
Root crops such as carrots, utilize a decent amount of phosphorous in their growth and development. Their thick, single taproot means they have a limited zone from which they can absorb phosphorous from the soil, unlike crops with many small, fibrous roots which have an incredibly large root surface area. If a soil test (available from the Penn State Extension Service) indicates a deficiency of phosphorous in your garden’s soil, add an organic phosphorous fertilizer like rock phosphate to the planting area a few weeks before planting.
Another important aspect of soil management when it comes to growing straight carrots is the soil pH. Most vegetables, including carrots, grow best when soil pH is between 6.2 and 6.8. A soil test will determine the pH and recommend the proper amount of lime or elemental sulfur to add to the soil in order to adjust the pH to the optimum level. Obtaining the accurate pH level should not be a shot in the dark; a proper soil test is the only thing that can tell you how to adjust this very important measurement.
Here in Western Pennsylvania, carrot seeds can be sown directly into the prepared seedbed anytime from late March through late summer. Space the seeds one-half to 1 inch apart, if possible. When the seedlings come up, be sure to thin them to a distance of 2 inches so each root has plenty of room to develop.
As the plants grow, keep the soil well-watered, but don’t over do it. Carrots are not drought tolerant and will sometimes fork or gnarl if the soil gets too dry during their development. Pithy cores are another sign of insufficient watering. On the other hand, if the soil gets too wet in the later stages of root development, carrots may split open and rot.
When carrots near maturity, their “shoulders” may pop up out of the ground and turn green and bitter, limiting the portion of edible root. If this happens, mound soil or mulch up over the exposed crowns as they grow.
Growing carrots under the protection of a floating row cover prevents carrot root maggots and wireworms from accessing the roots and causing further problems with gnarled and rotten roots. Leave rows of carrot seedlings covered with the fabric from germination through harvest.
With these few simple steps, you can have a beautiful, straight carrot harvest.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.
Send your gardening or landscaping questions to email@example.com or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.