Carrots – one of the most beloved vegetables. They are so versatile, delicious and even kids love ‘em! There is nothing that makes me happier than pulling up a long, sweet carrot out of the ground. They are full of beneficial vitamins like K and A, contain calcium and beta-carotene and are helpful in reducing cholesterol and improving eye health. 

If you’ve ever tried growing carrots at home, you may have trouble with rocks or compaction that might hinder the root from forming the typical carrot shape. You may also notice that not all carrots you see at the farm are long and straight. Some of you seek out the carrots with more ‘character’ and often laugh at the funny shapes they make with all the ways they fork, split and twist underground. In some instances, the carrot may be moving to grow around something, but at the farm it often means something else.

This year, we are seeing a lot of unusual looking carrots in our second seeding. The greens are dying back prematurely and the roots are covered in fibrous galls and look ‘hairy’, in that they have a lot of thin roots hanging off the main body of the carrot. After some research, we’ve discovered that we have root knot nematodes in our soil, which are affecting the health and growth of our carrots. 

Root Knot Nematodes are microscopic worms that live in the soil and invade the roots of plants that grow near them. They thrive in hot, sandy soils so this may be why we are seeing an issue with them this season. They burrow into developing roots to feed and reproduce, which is what causes the carrots to become stunted, fork out in strange ways and grow fibrous galls. On a commercial scale, this can drastically reduce yield because most consumers desire ‘perfect’ carrots that look ‘normal’ and are easy to peel and cook. 

What does this mean for Stearns members? You may see funky-looking carrots in your share this fall, but it’s OK! They are still edible and good for you, though they may not be as sweet as the carrots you’ve been getting so far. Another reason why the CSA model is beneficial to farmers is that we are still able to distribute ‘ugly’ produce and reduce waste. We are able to educate our members so that they can understand and accept vegetables that may not look like the grocery store produce they are used to. 

As for the farm itself, there are a few different strategies we can focus on to prevent this from happening again. In addition to crop rotation, solarization is suggested, as well as planting crops that are resistant to the nematodes for a year or so to help decrease the population. It is also helpful to till the section several times during the hottest months to bring the nematodes to the surface and expose them to the sun to kill them. Whatever our approach, we will do our best to manage yet another pest that we live among! 

Until next time,