Gardening: Distorted vegetables can have many causes |

Gardening: Distorted vegetables can have many causes

Whenever I read an article about distorted vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, or other root crops with multiple roots, potato tubers that look like Snoopy or vegetables with other distortions, my first thought focuses on the cause of these problems. While distorted vegetables are still edible it often takes longer to prepare them for consumption and thus not considered desirable by many cooks. Time is money for many of these chefs. Quite often the distorted roots are due to inadequate soil preparation. When the roots encounter a rock or other hard surface, they split in an attempt to go around the obstacle they have just encountered. The hard objects should have been removed during the soil preparation process. Sometime the soil was not prepared deep enough causing the roots to split and grow horizontally resulting in a distorted root. Again, proper soil preparation should have been attended to.

Sometimes the distorted vegetables taste different as happens when carrots develop red foliage, have multiple hairs on the root, and taste like sugar. This condition is caused by a wall-less mollicute, a type of bacteria without a cell wall. Vectored by leaf hoppers, carrots infected with this organism lets me know the gardener did not control the weeds in and around the garden. The lack of adequate weed control also tells me the vegetables in this garden may be infected with viruses as viruses as well as phytoplasma tend to reside in weeds around the garden where aphids and leafhoppers pick up and vector these plant pathogens to plants in the garden. Even though plant viruses have not yet been found to be linked to human or animal diseases these plant pathogens can affect the growth, taste, and yield of the crop being infected.

Potato plants not receiving consistent soil moisture will often stop growing and when watered again will start to grow in unusual ways. Instead of growing evenly, knobs of tuber tissue will form resulting in tubers that look like a human, a dog, etc. These knobby potatoes are hard to prepare for consumption taking more time to peel than potatoes with a smooth uniform shape. It is worth the extra time? Can you as a chef add a few more minutes to the process?

If the potatoes in a garden aren’t being provided a uniform moisture level what does that say for the rest of the garden? If tomatoes, eggplant, or peppers are subjected to the same soil moisture deficit, blossom end rot, the condition where the bottom of the turns black and dies, will also be a problem. If squash, cucumbers, and pumpkins are subject to uneven soil moisture conditions, they can also die back from the tips of their fruits; blossom end rot is often followed by a fungal rot. Cucumbers even turn bitter when insufficient soil moisture is available, a condition most chefs would not tolerate.

Potatoes that are oversized are often the result of the plants being too far apart. While this allows the tubers to grow to an unusually large size, it also typically results in a condition known as hollow-heart. The center of the tuber splits open leaving hollow spaces. Such large tubers take longer to prepare for cooking to remove the interior damaged discolored tissue.

All of these problems could have been prevented by providing the proper conditions, spacing, moisture, fertilizer, etc. to the garden. While the home gardener will use these distorted vegetables when preparing meals for themselves and their family, even most of them prefer vegetables that are easier to prepare. Gardeners should use the distorted vegetables as a guide to changes needed for next year’s vegetable garden. Growing distorted vegetables is easy; producing high quality vegetables requires a greater attention to detail.

Free Press columnist Dr. Curtis E. Swift is a retired horticulture agent with the Colorado State University Extension. Reach him at, 970-778-7866 or check out his blog at He owns Swift Horticultural Consulting and High Altitude Lavender.

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