I Have a confession. This problem is 90% my fault. Christine's carrots were transplanted as seedlings, not sown directly into the soil. In the nursery industry we tend to use the term 'seedling' rather carelessly, of course it means a plant grown from seed. So what is the distinction?
Well in this case carrot seed sown directly into well prepared soil will germinate and fire a 'tap' root straight down into the soft and loving earth, and a shoot takes off in search of sun. Christine's carrots on the other hand were sown into a small pot or a punnet and then transplanted into her Magic Square Garden. And you can see what has happened... the roots were bent, twisted, folded back on themselves during the transplanting process and continued to grow in this rather sad, contorted and well Tortured position. They still taste great... carrot is a flavour that really does stand out when picked fresh from your own garden, but they are never going to win prizes at the garden show.
I did the guest spot with Jane Edmanson on the radio one Satuday morning and she took me to task over growing carrots in punnets. My rather lame defence is we resisted the temptation for a number of years but once carrots became a regular seedling line in nurseries we just had to supply what our customers were asking for. There is no doubt they are popular, whenever we do potting days for kids carrots are the most popular vegetable by far.
Anyway, there are good reasons to plant seedlings in preference to sowing seed. Most obvious is the process of germinating seed is possibly the most challenging skill in horticulture. Those involved in striking cuttings or budding and grafting will probably beg to differ but raising seed is my favourite part of being a nurseryman. Challenging and satisfying. Now if you are a novice gardener wouldn't you rather have someone simplify the tricky bits? Another benefit of buying a seedling is that at least 4-6 weeks of growing time is saved and don't forget there's the issue of having to thin plants out because you have sown them too close together.
So you have decided you want to grow vegies from seedlings, not directly from seed. What do you need to do to avoid being labelled a carrot torturer for the rest of your life? Take a little extra time, especially with root vegetables. With carrots I like to dig a little trench, deep enough for the roots of your carrots to stretch out nice and straight (say 5-10cm). Dig the trench with the soil you remove collected on one side, I tend to pull the soil towrds me. Keep in mind that is just hand digging our using a trowel. You will find the roots of young carrots surprisingly fibrous so just separate them carefully and lay them along the opposite edge of the trench to the collected soil. In well worked soil you will find that shaping a relatively smooth, sloping surface on one side of the trench where you can lay the plants is pretty easy. Once the plants have been placed backfill the trench gently covering the roots, it's a bit like tucking them into bed. This is one situation I don't recommend firming the plants into place vigourously, that's likely to bend the roots further. Just smooth the soil over and water them in. It's unlikely they will all grow straight and true but they'll be straighter for the bit of extra care given when planting.
Carrots are a great vegie to plant at any time of year, they easy to grow and very rewarding even if they are not all show quality.
By the way did you catch Italian Food Safari last night? Fantastic recipe for Ravioli with a Cavolo Nero sauce. Yum!