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FIELDING QUESTIONS: How do carrots end up braided?

Misshapen carrots occur when the carrot encounters an obstacle in the soil and changes growing course. Special to Forum News Service

Q: My wife and I had an abundant crop of carrots from our garden this summer. The braided ones in the photo were the most unusual. I wonder what makes them want to do that? — Vern Goodin, Moorhead, Minn.

A: Your carrot photo is fascinating. I've seen plenty of forked carrots and twisted carrots, but I don't think I've ever seen a clump braided so neatly together. From the photo, it looks like five carrots neatly intertwined.

Here's what causes carrots to grow forked and twisted, instead of straight and uniform: Carrot growth is very dependent on deeply prepared, uniform soil texture, free of stones and heavy clay. When carrots meet an obstacle in the ground, they search for the easiest route around or downward. If they meet a stone or hard soil lump, they become forked, or divert their growth sideways, moving around the obstacle. Closely spaced carrots will sometimes twist around each other, as you've found, as they apparently find it easier to grow downward through soil in a group effort.

To grow carrots that are uniform and straight, improve heavy clay soil by adding generous amount of organic matter, and rototill or spade the soil as deeply as you can, preparing it as smoothly as possible. Proper spacing of carrots is important for their uniform development. When carrot plants are about two inches high, thin the row by pulling or cutting crowded plants so the remaining carrots are spaced at least one or two inches apart.

Q: I have friends in Bismarck with a 20-year-old Haralson apple tree that's been dropping many fruit all summer. The tree appears to be healthy. Do you have any thoughts on why there are so many apples dropping?

A: Apples dropping during the season before their normal ripening date can be caused by several factors, and sometimes a combination. During years of heavy flowering and good pollination resulting in heavy fruit set, it's normal for some of the smaller apples to be shed in June, fittingly called June drop. It's the apple tree's way of naturally shedding excess fruit that it won't be able to support.

As the season progresses and larger apples are shed, weather conditions are often to blame. This year's dry conditions resulted in many apple trees shedding fruit in self-preservation. Even though we might water our trees, it's still not the same when drought and heat are extreme. Falling apples are also caused when fruits are growing in a tight cluster. As they grow, some apples are literally forced out of the cluster and drop. This can be corrected by thinning apple clusters so fruits are spaced four to six inches apart when they're dime-sized in June.

Q: Is it too late to plant tulips? I couldn't resist buying them, as they were on clearance sale. — M. Hanson, Alexandria, Minn.

A: Although September and early October are preferred, tulips and other bulbs can still be planted successfully by adding a few extra steps. Plant as soon as you can, and water immediately. Then cover the bulb bed with 12 to 24 inches of straw or leaves. This insulation will prevent the soil from freezing as quickly, giving the bulbs the necessary time to develop roots. Remove the mulch early next spring, before growth begins.