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Molly Hackett

Molly Hackett

Q: This is my first year of growing carrots, and they are a failure. They look like miniatures of real carrots. What happened?

A: Your tiny carrots did not have enough space to grow to their full size. They needed to be thinned when they were young, leaving just a single carrot plant every two inches in the row. No closer. If the carrots are growing in a raised bed, they should be thinned the same way; however, the short rows should go across the bed, not lengthwise, and the rows also can be two inches apart. Thin carrots early in their life so that they have plenty of time to grow large. I try to thin mine when the green tops are three inches tall.

Most other vegetables need to be thinned so that they have adequate space to develop. Thinning also must happen early with some of them; otherwise they are permanently dwarfed. Besides carrots, two other early candidates are Swiss chard and its first cousin, beets. Beets should be thinned to one plant every three inches; chard, because it makes a group of stems, should have eight inches between plants. Radishes also must be thinned quickly, but only to an inch or so apart.

Carrots are a special case because their thinned space must be verified once or twice. Carrot seed is slow to sprout, and some of the seeds are unbelievably slow. I get on my knees and check for latecomers a couple of weeks after thinning the carrots. Even so, I may find one or two late summer miniatures when I dig the big carrots.

If life intervenes and you don't get the carrots thinned as soon as you intended, do the job at the first possible opportunity.

Q: What do I do with my canna for the winter?

Q: How should I winter my hanging pot of tuberous begonias? Can I keep it in the house and have it keep flowering all winter?

A: Both these plants like the same kind of winter rest. Neither can spend a winter indoors without running out of energy and dying by spring. For both canna and begonia, leave them outdoors until frost kills the tops. Cut the collapsed remains to the dirt, then put them in winter storage so that they can go dormant.

An easy way to store both of these plants is in the pot. If they were planted in the ground, leave a generous quantity of soil on the roots when digging them. If neither is possible, store the tubers and roots in some kind of dry substance which also provides air spaces — peat moss, animal bedding, coconut fiber, for instance. Aim for storage temperatures which stay always in the 40s.

Because the climate is dry, check once a month to make sure that the dormant tubers are not parched. If they are in pots, look for potting soil which has shrunk to leave a space around the edge of the pot. If they are stored loose, look for any shriveling of tubers. They may need a tablespoon or two of water as often as once a month.

Both cannas and begonias will be rested and ready to start growing again in April.

***

Master gardener Molly Hackett, whose motto is “Never trust a gardener with clean fingernails,” welcomes your questions. Send them to 1384 Meridian Road, Victor, MT 59875; call 961-4614; or email mhackett@centric.net. Please include a garden-related subject line in emails. Hackett writes a twice-monthly Dirty Fingernails opinion piece for the Missoulian.

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