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The Right and the Wrong of It

Break the rules and root vegetables won’t grow

A Bay Weekly reader complained that most of the carrots, radishes, turnips and salsify he harvested from last year’s garden had branched roots. My immediate diagnosis was that he must have added a lot of compost to the soil before planting. When root crops are planted in soil rich in freshly applied compost, they tend to produce branched and fibrous roots.
    According to his description, he had applied only two wheelbarrows of compost to a garden approximately 30 feet wide and 50 feet long. Since most wheelbarrow tubs hold between two and three bushels, that amount of compost should not have caused the problem.
    I next asked what kind of compost. LeafGro, he said, incorporated into the soil with a rototiller. Had he had his soil tested? Yes, and I had made recommendations for him based on spring soil tests.
    Stumped so far, I asked how he planted his garden. As soon as he told me that he had sown all of the seedlings in trays and transplanted them in the garden, the problem was solved. Direct sowing is recommended on the seed packets, but he wanted all of his seedlings evenly spaced so that he would have perfect rows.
    Never, never, never transplant root crops. Seeds of carrots, parsnips, salsify, radish, beets, turnips, rutabaga, etc., should always be sown directly into the garden soil. Any disturbance to the roots once the seeds have germinated will cause branching.
    A couple of years ago, another Bay Weekly reader said he could no longer grow carrots and parsnips in his garden. Since he lived in Deale, I stopped by his home and walked into the garden. I sharpened a half-inch diameter piece of broom handle and tried to push the sharpened end into the soil. Four inches was as far as it would go.
    I asked what he used to till the soil. He showed me the Mantis tiller he had used to prepare this same garden bed for at least a dozen years. That was the problem. Repeated tilling had formed a plow-pan, a compacted layer of soil caused by the bottom pressure of the tines of the tiller. Farmers have the same problem from repeated use of plows.
    To solve his problem I recommended that he apply three to four cubic yards of LeafGro per 1,000 square feet and rent a hefty rototiller with six to eight horsepower. After spreading the compost evenly over the garden area, he was to set the tiller to dig as deeply as possible. Soil testing told him what else was needed to make plants grow better.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.