A great question came in this week to Ask Gardenerd:
“This year, I planted carrots and beets, but success was marginal. Some of the carrots turned out OK, but many were stunted or very small. Also, many were very bitter. Any suggestions for next time? Can you do anything with the carrot tops…I hate to throw them away…I am putting them into the compost pile. All the beets were very stunted and small. Any suggestions for next time? Also, some of my lettuce is bitter. Could my soil need something?”
So many good questions. In general, growing the crops you mentioned in cooler weather will help sweeten them up. Hot weather can drive lettuces to bolt (go to seed) rapidly and with bolting comes bitterness.
First let’s address your root crops’ stunted growth. Some root crops, like carrots, can be difficult to grow. Be sure to condition your soil with plenty of compost to a depth of 12 inches. Then your root veggies will have no trouble pushing through the soil. A trick I tried many years ago that worked very well for my carrots that were stunted is this:
Plunge your trowel into the soil and pull it towards you, fill the hole created with vermiculite, then release the trowel. Plant your seeds on top of that and your root veggies will have plenty of room to grow in a moist environment.
Now, here is what I found regarding sweetening up your carrots:
Too much nitrogen can make for hairy and tough carrots, whereas potassium helps promote sweetness. To get more potassium into your soil, spread wood ashes around your soil and dig them in. Wood ashes are quickly absorbed into the soil structure and become readily available to your plants in a jiffy.
As far as your carrot tops go, you can juice them (if you have a juicer) with some apple and carrot for a tasty drink. Here are a couple recipes I found online:
I hope this helps. Thanks for writing in!