Carrots are one of the main crops that I grow
in my gardens, and when they’re grown well can be really high yielding, but they can
be a tricky crop to grow. It’s sometimes hard to get the tiny seeds
to germinate, there’s a few problematic pest issues that we need to deal with, and it’s
essential to thin the seedlings adequately in order to get a decent yield of reasonable
sized roots. But I never really know how the crop is developing
until I start to pull or dig the roots out of the soil, and quite often the roots are
split, or forked or the shape that I would prefer.
For several years now I have been growing the same variety of large storage carrots,
and this season i decided to sow a batch in six of my family scale gardens, each of which
is being managed using a different method. Now that I have finished most of the harvesting,
it’s interesting to see the different size of the roots from each of the gardens and
what proportion of the roots were forked. And I was quite surprised by the difference
between the gardens, especially with the wild shapes of carrots that were being pulled out
of one of the gardens. I have been getting really good results from
growing this type of carrot in my Extensive Garden over the last few years, and this year
was also a good crop. The wide spacing of the rows, the large variety
and a long growing season, all combined to produce a lot of quite large roots, that were
in good shape for the most part, though a few of them were forked or split.
I had sown these seeds at the beginning of May, a few days after I had dug out the remaining
old chard plants from the same bed, which had grown quite big over the winter and into
the spring. I had forked the soil a bit to loosen it,
but not excessively, and then I worked in a few fertility amendments into the surface
of the soil as I raked a seedbed for the tiny seeds.
This recent soil cultivation could have caused some of the carrot roots to fork, possibly
when they grew into air spaces within the soil that hadn’t had a chance to settle
yet, but it could also have been due to stones that were still in the soil.
I did notice that the forked roots seemed to be more clustered together, rather than
randomly spread along the row, and this led me to suspect that the decomposition of the
remains of the large root system from the chard plants might have caused the forking
of the tender roots of the carrot seedlings. It would be quite interesting if the clusters
of forked carrot roots correlated to where the last few overwintering plants had been
growing, but I can’t remember where they had been in the row. This crop of carrots from the Intensive Garden
was good this year, similar to what I have been able to harvest over the last few years,
producing quite a high yield of slightly smaller roots in a fairly densely spaced bed.
It was nice to be able to pull out quite a few clean, good shaped roots, and some of
them were quite big and long, especially at the edge of bed.
There were some forked roots, but they seemed to be more randomly spaced across the bed,
and the forking occurred at various depths of the different roots.
These seeds were sown on the same day as they were in the Extensive Garden, but the soil
had had longer time to settle before hand. While the fixed beds in this garden are typically
double dug each season, which is a process of loosening the soil quite deeply, adding
lots of fertility, and removing most of the stones, I decide to not dig this bed prior
to the carrots this season, thinking that the digging that I had done before the previous
crop would have been enough. The remains of the old crops and any weeds
had been cleared from the bed at the end of February, a couple of months before sowing,
but a layer of low fertility compost had been shallowly worked into the soil surface just
before sowing the carrot seeds. This recent addition of compost could have
caused some of the roots to split near their top, but would not have had an impact deeper
in the soil. Some of the roots were really long and pointed,
which is typical of this variety, but others seem more stunted or blunt ended, and I’m
not sure what caused these, but perhaps I just need to accept all of this, and a certain
amount of forking as a natural variation within this open pollinated variety. In comparison to the other gardens, I was
quite surprised by the number of forked carrot roots that were growing in the No-Dig Garden,
and I’ve not seen this type of forking before, and I can only think that it was due to the
way the beds in this garden were prepared. I had cleared the soil surface of all weeds
and old plant debris in February, and then in the beginning of April I had added a thick
layer of finished compost on top of the soil surface.
This was the first time that I had tried using this particular No-Dig method with root crops
like this, which involved me buying in large quantities of finished compost which was sterile,
but not very rich in fertility nor fully decomposed. A lot of the forking of these carrots was
right at the top of the root, and in in many cases seemed to coincide with the bottom of
the layer of compost, or the top of the soil. This sudden change of growing medium seems
to have had an impact on the first thin tap root that was sent out by the carrot seedling.
I’m not sure if it was a physical issue, and I suspect that there had been enough time
for lots of biological activity to develop at the interface between the compost and soil
below, but not enough time for the compost to really settle in.
Or perhaps there was just too much biological activity for the delicate roots of carrot
seedlings to manage, and instead they branched out, producing some crazy root structures. Thing were quite different in the Polyculture
Garden where the carrots and parsnips are interplanted between established onions and
garlic plants. The crop this season was disappointing, partially
due to the slightly later sowing, not thinning enough or when the plants were small enough
and I’m not sure if there was enough soil fertility to go around.
I also failed to keep the carrot fly away from this crop.
But the roots of most of the carrots were not forked, and the interplanted parsnip roots
were all straight and deep. I think that this is mostly due tot he fact
that the soil in this bed had been sieved in the previous October while harvesting the
last of the potato crop, which would have removed a lot of stones, and then compost
had been added to the surface of the bed at the same time.
The overwintering onions sets and garlic were planted in December, and by the time carrot
and parsnip seeds were sown later in May, the soil would have had more than 7 months
to settle in, and I think this really helped to reduce the number of forked roots. I think the settled soil of the carrot bed
also helped the crop in the protected Polytunnel Garden, where the same variety had been sown
at the beginning of July, after overwintering onions had been harvested.
The soil in this garden has been dug over quite deeply for many seasons, and most of
the stones had been removed in the process, and the soil has become loose with a good
texture. But the only work on the soil that I did just
before sowing this batch of carrot seeds was to level the surface a bit, so the depth of
the bed had been undisturbed since before the onions were planted 7 months earlier.
The result was that almost all of the carrots were straight and I think I found only one
root that was forked. This was my best crop of carrots in terms
of root shape, but unfortunately I had not covered the crop with a mesh early enough
and the patch had ended up being quite infested with carrot root fly, which was really disappointing. The largest batch of this variety of carrots
was grown in the Simple Garden in soil that had been sieved to remove the remains of the
potato crop, as well as any stones and larger weed roots from the topsoil.
But unlike in the Polyculture Garden, this work was only done at the beginning of February,
and then some fertility amendments had shallowly worked into the surface of the soil, before
it was covered and allowed to settle for only 2 or 3 months.
I have harvested a pretty good crop out of this garden, with a fair number of well shaped
roots. But there’s also a fair amount of forked roots,
and some showing signs of rot and cracking, perhaps more than in most of the other gardens.
I am not sure what the issues are with this large crop, but I suspect that once again
the soil probably needed to settle a bit more before the carrot seeds were sown. Having finished harvesting all of the carrots,
I think I can make some interesting general observations about all of this.
The carrot roots seem to be generally less forked when they’re grown in soil that had
a fair amount of time to settle since it was last dug, and perhaps even better if a compatible
crop had already been growing in the soil such as with the onions in the Polytunnel
Garden and in the Polyculture Garden. Stones in the soil may be an issue, but it
doesn’t seem to be an important factor as there were quite a few forked carrot roots
in the Simple Garden which had had most of the stones removed from the layer of topsoil.
The remains of the roots of some plants that were grown in the same soil before the carrots
may cause problem as they decompose, which may have been the main factor with the chard
plants in the Extensive Garden, but the onions in the Polytunnel didn’t seem to be an issue.
A recent addition of a thick layer of compost onto the surface of the soil can cause issues
for young carrot seedlings, as can be seen with the dramatic shapes of some of carrot
roots from the No-Dig Garden, but it probably depends on the quality of the compost, and
the amount of time that things have had to settle in.
Of course all of these forked carrots are still edible, but they are more difficult
to clean and prepare in the kitchen, and they are more difficult to store.
Forked carrots also seem to be more susceptible to splitting and a certain type of rotting
of the root, but I am not sure where the correlation and causation lies with all of this.
I plan to process and eat all of the forked and damaged carrots first, and to only store
the really well shaped carrots for use later in the winter and into next spring.
I am going to make sure that I finish any digging and other soil preparation work for
next years crop as soon as possible, to allow the soil to settle, and I’m seriously considering
pulling out any crops that are already in the ground earlier rather than later, and
it’ll be interesting to see how many carrots I get in next year’s crop because of all
of this work.