Better veggies can be yours

Gardeners often look back at last season's harvest and feel they could have grown better veggies. Two common challenges are "hairy" or misshapen carrots and poorly formed cabbage heads.

Jim Myers, an Oregon State University vegetable breeder, says there are a few things gardeners can do to overcome the challenges.

"Hairy or misshapen carrots or carrots with multiple roots twisted around each other may come from spacing, soil type, pests and disease," Myers says. "It helps to thin them to an inch apart after the leaves reach up about 3 inches."

Heavy, clay soil may force carrot roots to grow crooked. Amend clay soil in your carrot patch with leaves that are broken down well and compost that is well-rotted. Carrots do well in light (sandy) soil that is not full of amendments.

Root-knot nematodes may cause deformed carrots and can be verified with a soil test. You might have to solarize (treat soil with the sun's heat using plastic sheeting in the summer) or rotate your carrots to another area next time.

Another potential cause, Myers says, is recent fertilization — or overfertilization.

"Excess nitrogen can cause carrots to form multiple roots or get hairy," he says. "If you add manure-laden compost to your soil, do so in the fall, then let it overwinter before planting carrots in the spring. Carrot roots also will get hairy in waterlogged ground."

Growing good cabbage with well-formed heads often is a challenge. Some cabbages don't set heads, and sometimes those that do crack open. You might be watering too much.

Excess irrigation after a period of drought (little or no watering) can cause the heads to swell until they crack. Cabbages also crack when they are mature. Try watering them less and harvesting them earlier. Poor heading in cabbage can be caused by several factors, including:

Overcrowding. Thin your plants early in the season to at least 18 inches apart.

Underwatering. Is your soil too dry? Are you watering deeply enough? Long, infrequent watering is better than shorter, surface watering for cabbage.

Hot weather. If the cabbage is setting a head during a hot spell, the head can be stunted or misshapen. Adequate watering may overcome some of the effects of heat.

Club-root fungal infection. Do your plants wilt during midday after having just been watered? Pull up one of your stunted plants and examine the roots. If they look "clubby" with large swellings, avoid planting any of the brassica family in that spot again. The pathogen may persist in the soil for 10 or more years.

Root-rot fungal infection. In clay soils, or soils with too much water, root-rot infection thrives and kills much of a plant's root system. Rotate another type of plant to this area of the garden.

Judy Scott writes for Northwest Gardeners E-News, an online project of the OSU Extension.

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