Our ability to distinguish safe food from bad food relies on our senses. If something doesn’t smell, feel, or look right, we call upon millennia of survival instincts to clue us in. But we also know from experience that looks don’t tell the whole story, and that’s the case with bumpy carrots.
You can still eat bumpy carrots if the bumps come from awkward growth, but you shouldn’t eat them if the bumps come from root knot nematodes. Nematode infections come with several signs. Luckily, distinguishing safe carrots from unsafe ones isn’t hard to do.
In this article, I’ll explain the differences between normal bumps on carrots and carrot bumps arising from nematode problems. We will also look at ways to avoid nematodes in your carrots.
Is Your Carrot Regular Bumpy or Nematode Bumpy?
When we shop for produce at a grocery store or farmers market, someone has already done the job of removing the unsightly options for us (obvious exceptions notwithstanding). Not only this, they will also have removed all save the prettiest options—the ones most likely to sell.
If growing produce at home, we reap what our work (and a little luck) sowed, making adjustments and selections to achieve the results most likely to become comestibles. In short: we’ll eat most of what we grow as we become less picky.
Homegrown carrots, therefore, present gardeners with novel looks and textures to evaluate. We become the farmer and grocer—selecting for better growth in the field and better results on the table.
Sometimes, this means our crops might look weird. We grow accustomed to seeing perfect carrots at the store, so bumpy carrots may look like they belong in the trash. However, in most cases, you can dig in.
Regular Bumpy Carrots
Many things cause carrots to look ‘bumpy.’ Here are some common ones and their causes.
- Cracked carrots: When carrots split, the crack runs vertically and can bulge out at the edges of the split, giving them a bumpy look. Cracking indicates the carrots contain too much water and doesn’t affect the taste.
- Twisted carrots: Twisting results from packed or obstructed soil diverting growth to less resistant soil pockets. Twisted carrots bulge at the sides where each turn occurs during development, giving the carrot’s profile a bumpy character. However, this kind is still safe to eat.
- Crooked or bent carrots: Carrots that come out crooked or bent will also have experienced changes in their growth path due to soil obstructions, making them appear deformed. These, too, are safe to eat.
- Hairy carrots: Carrots can swell where the lateral roots sprout. This happens when they don’t get enough water or nutrients. You can eat these carrots, but first, ensure the hairiness is due to watering or nitrogen excess rather than nematodes.
Since these carrots don’t pose health risks and work fine for eating, you can shave and carve them to make them better-looking. If you still don’t like them, you can compost them without worry.
Nematode Bumpy Carrots
Microscopic worms called nematodes inhabit the soil, and the ones that concern us subsist as parasites on various plants. As with most critters, nematodes can help or harm, depending on species and location and whether someone wants them.
Root-knot nematodes and other types of nematodes infect crops planted in their soil. They make hosts of the vegetables, disrupting growth and robbing plants of nutrients. Nematode bumps appear on carrot sides as wart-like structures with hairy roots protruding from the center.
If you have rocks or clay in your soil, you may find your carrots growing in different directions due to the pressure exerted by these objects. In otherwise clear soil, nematodes will cause carrot deformities often attributed to human error.
Though carrot root examination aids early detection, you can sometimes detect a nematode infestation above the soil. Plant foliage wilts and grows patchy and stunted, becoming unhealthy, not vibrant, and unwholesome. However, you should not depend on above-ground diagnosis for nematodes.
Some may try to salvage the carrots, but without proper cooking, you risk ingesting thousands of nematodes. You may also want to skip the compost pile because harmful nematodes can survive and wind up in your garden again if you use the infected compost.
Growing Carrots at Home – Without Nematodes
The home gardener has two main options when planning for nematodes. The first includes all the available control methods, such as pesticides and crop rotation. The second entails growing your plants in containers like pots or bags and indoor gardens like the Aerogarden.
Pesticides vary in effectiveness and scope. They don’t always kill enough nematodes to prevent crop damage. Natural methods, on the other hand, can work too well, killing beneficial nematodes along with other crawlers.
Crop rotation and other biological control methods pose similar problems. Rotating crops can help manage the proliferation of new nematodes but it cannot eliminate them. It also has the potential to invite other garden threats.
Root Knot Nematodes love carrots, just like other carrot pests and non-pests. If you plant carrots in the soil on your property, it will have nematodes. Not only this, but other nematodes will come into your property because of what you grow.
Again, not all nematodes will hurt your plants. Still, you can’t play bouncer to microorganisms with heavy-handed or low-effectiveness measures.
Growing Carrots in Containers
If you construct a raised bed on top of soil that harbors nematodes, you risk exposing the garden to nematodes the same way you would if you planted your carrots in the ground. While some ground covers can slow nematode propagation, they won’t prevent it without a durable vapor barrier.
Growing carrots in containers eliminates the concern of nematode infestation because you can use your soil but place the container on a nematode-free surface. If you grow your carrots indoors, you can also customize the environment.
You also want to choose carrot varieties best suited for growing in smaller containers. Not all carrots grow into the mammoth Imperator spears we see at the store. And, no, I don’t mean baby carrots which come from misshapen adult carrots that producers whittle down until they look cute enough to eat. I mean varieties that work well indoors, even in small containers.
Different carrot types have different maturing rates and spacing needs, so you’ll have to keep that in mind when deciding what variety to plant.
Here are a few shorter varieties that grow well in pots, bins, and bags.
- Scarlet: The Scarlet is a mid-length Nantes variety that stops growing at around six inches (152.4 mm) and stays slender and uniform.
- Short n’ Sweet: This Chantenay variety peaks at four inches (101.6 mm) long and has nutrients aplenty.
- Sweetness: Another Nantes variety, the Sweetness tops out at six inches (152.4 mm) and delivers a sweeter taste than most.
Growing Carrots in Aerogardens
At first glance, the Aerogarden may not seem conducive to carrot farming. The taproot would grow downward into the water reservoir. While this works for most plants because that’s where their roots get water and air, the carrot would grow too large for such a small space. Right?
Well, like it often does, this depends on what variety you grow.
The varieties listed below mature at smaller sizes, so you won’t have to worry about irregular or stunted growth resulting from growing them in grow baskets.
- Little finger Nantes: Little fingers can reach six inches (152.4 mm) long, but you can harvest these when they hit three inches (76.2 mm) long and one inch ( 25.4mm) in diameter.
- Parisian: This tiny variety won’t grow past a couple of inches (50.8 mm) in length or diameter. Still, it packs a nutritious and flavorful punch.
- Minicor: The Minicor can grow to six inches (152.4 mm) if you let it. However, feel free to pull them out when they are a few inches shorter because they will taste just as rich and sweet.
Aerogarden Experiments grew a small carrot crop of an unknown variety in an Aerogarden. The results may not quite exhibit grocery-store-level beauty. Still, they most certainly resemble (and, in fact, are) edible carrots.
Check out the progress video from planting to harvest here:
You can still eat bumpy carrots if you can determine what caused the bumps.
Many carrot deformities stem from innocuous causes that gardeners can address and correct themselves. However, if the bumps come from nematode infestations, you should throw them away to avoid possible illness.
Ultimately, your best bet for growing nematode-free carrots lies in container gardening.