What the shape of your carrots can tell you about your soil.

When you think of a carrot you usually envision this long pointy thing that is nice and straight without extra appendages or knobs.  But the reality of homegrown carrots is often less like the cartoon version and more like an oddly shaped nub sometimes with a set of legs and an arm or three with which to hold it’s neighbor carrot.

However, rather than throw those odd shaped carrots to the kids to make dolls or whatever with, you can actually diagnose your soil, and root out the root cause of your root trouble.

Here are some of the common reasons for odd shaped carrots, and carrot diseases:

  • Lumpy soil with clay or rocks can cause crooked, forked roots.  Make sure that you break up clay either through cultivation or through the addition of a good layer of humus (raised beds).
  • Shrimpy carrots are often due to too dense a planting. Thinning of large varieties to about 2 inches apart, and small varieties such as “little finger” to about an inch or so should help.
  • Branching and hairy, fibrous roots is often the result of excess nitrogen in the soil.
  • If your carrots are not very sweet you might need to add some potassium to your soil.  Wood ash is a great choice to add potassium, and it also helps deter wire worms, which also like to eat carrot seeds and tops.
  • Knobby, irregular shaped carrots can also be due to sporadic, uneven watering. Use a soaker hose or a form of irrigation that allows you get a good deep and even water.
  • Rotten roots or rotten spots on roots are caused by insect larvae. Carrot roots that have tunneled spots which are rusty in color are from the carrot rust fly.  Plants will become stunted and eventually rot.  Carrot rust fly infestations can be avoided by regular crop rotation, or waiting until after June 1st to plant carrots (the maggots will have died by then).  Pulverized wormwood sprinkled around the crowns can also work as a deterrent to the carrot fly.
  • Knotted roots are caused by tiny nematodes that live in the soil. The knots form on the rootlets and cause a roughened surface on the taproot as well as yellowing and stunted growth.  Root knot nematodes can be controlled by crop rotation of anti-nematode crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, grain sourghum, and millet.  Also, heavy cultivation such as tilling can spread nematodes, so should be avoided if possible.  You can also purchase beneficial nematodes that have been shown to be effective at controlling root knot nematodes, plus other ground dwelling “pests”.

Written by Emma O’Connell, Founder of Pick-A-Pepper.com, Fresh, Local food at your fingertips!

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