Weymouth, Mass. — I transplanted a large bunch of carrots last year, which the good books on gardening say should never be done.
Necessity forced me to spurn convention and, to my surprise, the carrots grew without much trouble. Moreover, come the harvest, they turned out to be almost as good as the rest in looks. A few of the roots were forked or otherwise misshapen, but such roots were decidedly in the minority.
Now, most garden advice suggests that forked carrot roots are the inevitable result of transplanting. Except for the almost total failure of the seed in one patch of carrots to germinate and the virtual germination of every seed sown in a second patch, I might have continued to accept that observation without question.
The transplant idea occurred to me as I began thinning out the too-thick patch. It seemed an incredible waste to throw away so many good-looking seedlings when there was a second carrot patch just crying out for them.
Obviously, forked roots are not much good if you are in the business of selling fresh produce. But carrots remain edible and good-tasting whatever the shape. Thus, for home consumption, what does it matter if they grow forked? At least, that was my reasoning at the time.
Now some pretty good ideas can come along to someone who sits and ponders a situation quietly. I tend to rush in without much thought, but on this occasion I did relax, sit back for a while, and a few useful ideas came tumbling in. This is how the resulting transplanting took place:
First, I partly filled a bucket with water that was cool but not cold to the touch so as to avoid too dramatic a change in temperature for the plants. Then I added a little seaweed solution for good measure.
I dug up a trowelful of carrot seedlings and placed them straight into the bucket of water so that they were virtually submerged in it.
While these soaked, I dug a V-shape trench in the soil where the carrots would grow and soaked it with water. By this time the soil surrounding the seedlings in the bucket had all but dissolved away. This made it easy to separate the seedlings -- using extreme care, of course -- without damaging too many rootlets.
Taking a seedling at a time, I would lay the taproot against one side of the furrow and immediately push wet soil from the other side of the furrow up against it. This way the drying effects of the sun and air on the roots were avoided. When all the seedlings had been transplanted in this manner, the bed was thoroughly watered so that the soil would come firmly into contact with the carrot roots.
The carrot seedlings had leaves that were about 4 inches long at the time of transplanting. These drooped over at first, but many of them stood up within a day or so and looked none the worse for the experience. On others, some of the longer leaves failed to recover, but in every instance the smaller central leaves grew apace. Not one plant succumbed to the transplanting, although I did discard a few of them -- those that appeared damaged by the trowel and others that looked small and spindly.
As it happened, the transplanting took place in the heat of the day. It would have been better had it taken place in the cool of the evening.
This sort of transplanting is time-consuming, so that under normal circumstances it is better to sow carrots in the conventional way and thin them as they grow.
In recent years I have taken to sowing carrots in rows 4 inches apart across the width of the bed. The carrots in the rows are thinned to 2 inches apart (use a pair of scissors and cut off the tops of the carrots in between). When half grown, every other carrot is removed, leaving the remaining carrots to reach full size.
Four inches between each carrot has been found to give optimum results; but growing others in between and removing them when about the thickness of a finger gives you a lot more carrots for your garden space.