Stunted carrots: A Learning Opportunity?

Anyone who has planted vegetables, including the most experienced farmers and gardeners, knows that sometimes you can’t avoid crop failure, and you have to deal with your losses one way or another.  I learned that lesson this year, when two of the root vegetable beds we planted with Cherokee Elementary Garden Club got attacked by worms, mice, and frost.  This isn’t the end of the world in an educational garden, but I still felt disappointed that the kids would miss out on carrots and beets this year.

But yesterday, when we went out with garden club for our last harvest of the year, none of the students seemed to share my disappointment.  After filling their bags with radishes and turnips, they gravitated toward the beds full of vegetables that didn’t grow taller than half an inch.  Matt, a 3rd grader who’s always excited about garden club, asked me, “can we pick these, too?”  Throughout my experience as an educator, I’m learning to hesitate before I say, “no.”  I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to take home stunted root veggies, but it’s too cold for them to grow any bigger now, and garden club ends next week, so I showed them how to tell the plants apart by their leaves and told them to go ahead.

What happened next put a huge smile on my face.  Matt pulled a tiny carrot out of the ground and shrieked, “LOOK, WOW, IT’S A BABY CARROT!”


The students were overjoyed to find that even tiny carrot plants are shaped like carrots, are orange like carrots, and even smell like carrots. This discovery sparked an exploration of all the other sprouts.  We found out that baby beets are a beautiful red-purple color just like grown-up beets, but baby radishes kind of look like little white carrots.

I encourage everyone to follow in my thought process and take this as a reminder that children can see the beauty in anything.  A ruined bed can be an opportunity to see a stage of plant growth we normally wouldn’t, and wilted greens make great bouquets.

Matt Wahnetah, 3rd Grade
Matt Wahnetah, 3rd Grade