A Garden Mystery

By Roger Erpelding
Contributing Writer

In an earlier post, I talked about what a disappointing potato crop I had. Just a few feet east of the potato rows was a row of carrots. They usually can be dug from Labor Day through Thanksgiving, depending on soil and weather conditions. Since the carrots were planted in April, their “date to maturity” as listed on the seed packet has occurred. Even so, no harm seems to come to leaving them in the ground until you’re ready for them.

We were out of carrots in the refrigerator. I was pretty well caught up with garden tasks, so I figured it was time for a test dig. By this time, the carrot tops are quite mature, with a group of ferny leaves that rises from a rosette base. I took my large trowel to the north end of the row, and placed it about six inches north of the first carrot tops. My carrots, as usual, had germinated in clumps. And as usual, the weeds were plentiful among the carrot plants.

I once asked my Mom (who is sighted) how to tell the carrots from the weeds. “You tell me and we’ll both know,” was her reply.  So this is a common problem among all gardeners, and not one to lose any sleep over. And besides, the weeds come up nicely with the carrots. The broadleaves, such as nightshade, are obvious, and were pulled throughout the season. The grassy weeds–and my garden has plenty of them–are the real challenge.

I placed my trowel to dig straight down, then gently leaned it to the south. If I angled too far, it would stab some of the carrot roots. If not angled enough, it would not reach the carrots. It is always best to err on not angling enough, as you can always try a second time. This often happened to me, without regret. Once I broke off two carrots, and this is not good.

After angling the trowel, I pulled it out and dug around the soil. When I felt carrots, I gently dug a little closer, and also much slower. When the carrots were loose, like loose teeth, I gently pulled them from the ground. This continued southward until I had about 30 carrots in the bag. I pulled the tops off, but left the root end attached. This will be cut off when I clean the carrots for eating raw or cooking.

The mystery is this–why would one root crop be the worst ever in my 30 years of gardening, when just a few feet away I was digging the best carrots I have ever raised? Because of their germination pattern they were not large, but this is not an issue. They were long, tapered, slender and thin–wonderful carrots. Only a couple of them were forked. Any soil disturbance–hard soil, a small rock, dry weather, compacted soil–will cause these roots to “fork.” And when they do this, they really aren’t much good, unless you have a foot long beauty which is only forked at the bottom inch. Forking simply means that you have two small roots instead of one long root where this occurs.

I proudly showed Beth my harvest. She was amazed that there were white and yellow carrots in the bag as well as the traditional orange ones. This is because I planted “rainbow carrots” and now I know they grew well. There were supposed to be some red ones in the mix as well, and at this point I am unsure as to whether we will see them.

As stated earlier, with everything else being equal, carrot digging time is flexible. I probably have six weeks to get back at this task, so for a while, the south portion of this row will be undisturbed.

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