Much of my time is spent answering garden questions from various readers, listeners and viewers. These vary with the season and many are very specific. But some bring up some interesting points that may be helpful to a wider audience. So I will try to feature one a week, as regularly as I can. No names of course.
This week the problem of carrots with hairpin roots. The question concerned carrots that had been grown from seedlings bought in a garden centre. The seedlings had been transplanted and when they were harvested, all had ‘V’ -shaped roots. What had gone wrong?
The answer is simple and is the result of really bad cultivation, but not the fault of the gardener really. As a rule, carrots need deep, light soil that is not stony. A sandy soil suits them best. The first root the carrot makes is a taproot that grows straight down and this will become the carrot. If it hits a stone in the soil it will be pushed one way or the other and will not be straight. In heavy, clay soils where slugs are common then you will get holes. And if the soil is recently manured or has too much organic matter added the roots will branch and be ‘fanged’.
Carrots should be grown where they are sown. It is impossible to transplant the seedlings and keep that taproot straight. If it is bent when dropped into the hole and backfilled the carrot will be bent when harvested.
Garden centres are filled with vegetable plants in spring and while lettuce and cabbage can be transplanted it is wrong that pots or cell trays of carrots and parsnips are sold at all. These are completely useless. I was given some cell trays with beetroot this year and, with a huge sigh, I carefully separated and planted them. They struggled but they have grown. Because the ‘roots’ actually grow at soil level these have produced half-decent roots but I still don’t recommend it as the way to grow beet.
And you certainly should not transplant carrots. And garden centres should know better.