Are your homegrown carrots forked, branching, twisted, or knobby, While they may make for amusing photos, these deformed vegetables can make food preparation a challenge – try turning a twisted carrot into carrot sticks!
These odd-shaped vegetables can also be a sign of serious garden problems. But what causes these deformed veggies?
There are many different factors that can cause twisted, forked, and asymmetrical roots – ranging from how you prepare your soil to nasty garden pests, and including several other unfavorable
While you can’t straighten a carrot out once it gets wonky, you can learn how to prevent deformities and produce a nice straight root crop in your next growing season.
I’m going to cover nine causes for deformed carrot roots – and ways you can prevent them. Here’s what’s ahead:
ARE DEFORMED CARROTS EDIBLE?
Before we get to our main purpose, let’s get the question of edibility out of the way, because I’m guessing this question is going to pop into your head at some point before we get to the end of the article if it hasn’t already.
In most cases, yes, your wacky looking carrot roots are edible. There are a few exceptions, however, and I’ll let you know about them along the way.
While the less than perfect looking roots are excellent for chopping and adding to soups or stews, there’s something satisfying about harvesting a crop that looks just like what’s pictured on your seed packet.
As long as they’re otherwise healthy, don’t let those more unusual specimens go to waste! Just follow our tips to plan ahead for next year if more uniform roots are what you’re after.
As a carrot root grows, it is highly sensitive to soil conditions.
Its growing tip will detect any obstacle it encounters and change its path accordingly. If a carrot could talk, it might say something like this:
And soil compaction can happen no matter what type of soil you have.
To keep your soil loose, avoid walking on your planting rows or beds. Instead, walk only between rows or around beds.
When you prepare your beds for planting, sift through your soil and remove any rocks, clods, sticks, or large pieces of organic matter that have not broken down.
Are you planting varieties that can grow 12 inches long? Then you will need to do this to a depth of 12 inches.
TOO MUCH NITROGEN
Many of your garden plants need lots of nitrogen while they are growing. But this is not so with carrots.
Your preventive measures don’t stop with soil prep.
While your crop is growing, there are a few ways you can keep your carrot roots on the straight and narrow, including making sure they have the space they need.
This brings us to another cause of odd-shaped carrot roots: growing plants together too densely.
Carrot seeds are typically sown heavily because of their typically low and slow germination rates.
To prevent twisty-turny veggies, seedlings will need to be thinned when they are 3-4 inches tall.
Otherwise, they will end up twisting around each other and forking rather than growing straight. To learn how to thin your carrot seedlings, refer to our growing guide.
Just as close proximity to other carrots can cause twisting and branching, weeds have underground roots that can get in the way of growth as well, and they will also compete for nutrients.
Make sure to keep your beds weeded throughout the growing season, so that weeds don’t interfere with your root crop.
The solution to this one? Harvest your carrot crop before it starts its second growing season.
If flower production has already begun, this is case number one where you will want to forego eating your deformed carrots.
PESTS AND DISEASE
I’ve covered several common and fairly easy ways to keep these root veggies straight and get them off to a good start. Now, here comes the trickier part: battling with the less easily controlled forces of pests and disease.
Would you have ever imagined that microscopic worms could cause your carrots to branch? While it’s not a pretty picture to bring to mind, they can and they do.
Luckily these worms, called root-knot nematodes also make their presence known through small galls or knots on the roots. I say luckily, because if you have a problem with these pests, this sign will help you to correctly identify them.
Though infected plant tops often look wilted or stunted, sometimes the symptoms of this pest are totally invisible above ground.
You may not know you have a root-knot nematode problem until harvest time, when you discover what’s been hiding underground – knobby, hairy, deformed roots.
Root-knot nematodes are plant parasites that feed on root tissue, and they are more commonly found in sandy soils – just the place where carrots like to grow.
Once nematodes have infested carrot roots, there is no treatment except to remove infected plants. The best remedy will be preventing these pests from attacking your next crop.
In the meantime, if you find yourself with these pests in your garden, here are a few ways to stop them from setting up camp permanently.
Remove all infected plant material. Start by removing and throwing away all infected plants and debris – don’t compost it. You don’t want to take any chances with these pests spreading to the rest of your garden.
Don’t spread infected soil. Be careful not to inadvertently spread soil from an infected area to other areas of the garden via tools or equipment. Make sure to clean these after using them in infected areas.
Harvest your spring crop early. Root-knot nematodes are most active at temperatures over 70°F, and inactive below 60°F, so harvesting their food source early will keep populations low and prevent a population explosion.
Rotate the infected area with non-host plants. Root-knot nematodes will only live in your garden as long as they have something to eat. Unfortunately, most of your garden crops are on their menu.
Add organic matter. Adding compost to the infected area can help increase beneficial microorganisms and lower root-knot nematode populations.
Till your garden. Tilling will bring root-knot nematodes to the surface, where they will be more readily exposed to weather extremes and die. On the other hand, this may also destroy and disturb beneficial organisms (and cause soil compaction and forked roots as mentioned above), so reserve this option as a last line of defense.
Now, if you’re wondering whether you can eat crops damaged by these pests, rest assured that root-knot nematodes are plant parasites that don’t target humans.
However, these pests can cause damage so severe that the best place for a badly infected crop will be the trash bin.
In the case of less affected crops, remove all galls and damaged areas, and as an extra measure of hygiene.
Along with deformed roots, some of the other symptoms of this disease are pale, yellow leaves with green veins, curling foliage, and deformed flowers.
One way to keep aster leafhoppers away from your crops is to mulch with aluminum foil or oat straw, which will reflect sunlight more than your garden soil, dissuading these bugs from visiting your plants.
QUICK GUIDE TO PREVENTING AND IDENTIFYING CAUSES
Cause ,Symptoms, Preventive ,Measures
Compacted, heavy soil Short, stumpy roots Work sand and well-aged compost into soil Rocks, clods, other objects in soil Forked, deformed roots Remove rocks, clods and other objects from soil Too much nitrogen Hairy roots, with forking or branching Add little or no additional nitrogen to soil Dense plantingsTwisting, forkingThin when seedlings are 3-4" tallWeeds Branching, forking Keep beds weeded Root knot nematodes Galls, forking, hairy roots Dispose of infected plant waste, rotate, don't grow summer crop Aster yellows Deformed hairy roots, yellowing leaves, curling foliage, deformed flowers Remove infected plants and weeds, apply reflective mulch, remove host weeds Transplanting Forking, branchingDon't transplant, start seeds in ground or permanent pots Second growing season Forking, branching Harvest in first year.
RECIPE IDEAS FOR ENJOYING DEFORMED CARROTS
If you’ve already got a harvest of otherwise healthy forked or twisted carrots on hand,
There are endless ways you can sneak these goofy garden veggies into your culinary creations – and nobody will know the difference.
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