'My Carrots Look Like Spiders!' and Other Rooty Tales of Woe

You followed all the rules. You made sure the soil was loosened with fluffy black dirt and maybe even a little sand. You made sure your carrots were watered, and the first day you saw those bright-orange tops poking out of the ground you thought, I've really done it. Then you waited a little while longer, to make sure they were really ready, and you began to pull.


Sure, the spindly, odd-shaped carrots you may have picked still taste delicious (cut up in salads, caramelized, roasted, steamed, or baked); but what went wrong?

Here's a quick cheat-sheet for those of you who are frustrated by trying to grow such a seemingly simple vegetable:
  • Know your soil type  If you're planting in clay soil (listen up, North Country!), choose shorter, thicker varieties of carrots. These will be less likely to be deformed as they fight their way through heavy soil.  Round varieties "Chantenay Red Core", "Pariesenne", "Tonda di Parigi", and "Touchon" are all good choices.
  • Consider the container   Those of you living in apartments or other places where you don't have an in-ground garden option, don't be intimidated about growing carrots in containers! Just be sure to choose a variety whose length will fit inside the planter you're using. Your container should be at least a few inches deeper than the mature length of the carrot you want to grow (and make sure there's plenty of drainage—carrots will rot in standing water).
  • Loosen your soil  Regardless of what kind of soil you have, it's a good idea to loosen it to about one foot deep. Incorporating peat and sand will help to lighten it even more. Make sure rocks and hard dirt clumps are removed.
  • Respect thy pH  Carrots love a near-neutral pH level. Those of you with acidic soil should add lime. Be sure not to put too much nitrogen-based fertilizer in with your plants, as this will cause cracked, deformed carrots.
  • Plant evenly spaced veggies  Rule of thumb for carrots is to plant them about six inches apart, thinning them when they're large enough to handle (three or four inches apart). One trick to doing this is to use a small pair of pointed scissors to cut the seedlings' stems just below the soil surface. Improperly thinned carrots can mean misshapen veggies later on.
  • Don't Transplant!   Carrot seedlings send a long root straight down from seed, which is what eventually becomes the carrot plant. Transplanting seedlings can damage this root stem, resulting in misshapen veggies. While we found some people who've had great success transplanting, as a general rule of thumb it should be avoided.
  • Harvesting  Carrots can be pulled when the shoulders are showing above the soil and the root is at least 1/2 inch in diameter. Carrots do well in the soil, so you don't have to be in a rush to pick them. They'll wait patiently!
Have a gardening story to tell, or a question? Contact us at info@betterfarm.org.

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.