My carrots this year were a freak show! They were bent and branched and bizarre—nothing like the perfectly straight carrots you see at the grocery store. Where did I go wrong?
Carrots are pickier about soil preparation than almost any other vegetable. They grow best in sandy loam that is loose and porous to a depth of at least a foot. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have perfect soil; one way of getting around this is to grow carrots in a raised bed, where you have greater control over the soil quality.
If you garden where the layer of topsoil is shallow or heavy with clay, choose varieties that form short, stubby roots or one of the globe-shaped varieties, such as ‘Thumbelina’ or ‘Parmex’. Work the soil thoroughly, breaking up clods and mixing in plenty of finished compost. Sow the seeds where they are to grow; don’t try to transplant seedlings. The root of a carrot seedling may fork if it encounters a stone, clod, or even a chunk of un-decomposed plant debris. Excessive nitrogen fertilizer is another cause of branched roots.
Be sure to thin the seedlings promptly to avoid the twisty, conjoined roots that result from crowded rows. Thin to 2 inches apart if you intend to harvest full-size carrots, or half that distance if you’ll harvest at the “baby” stage. Use scissors to snip off the excess seedlings instead of pulling them out; even the slight root disruption caused by thinning can lead to forked roots in the remaining seedlings. —Doug Hall