Plucking a huge, meaty carrot from the vegetable garden is oddly satisfying. However, it is equally disappointing to pick a tiny, underdeveloped carrot! So how can you know when to pick carrots?
In this article, you’ll learn how to know your carrots are ready for harvest. Don’t make the mistake of picking your homegrown carrots prematurely!
When To Pick Carrots
Carrot plants form a deep taproot below the surface of the soil. This is the part of the plant that we like to eat. Since they are buried underground, it can be difficult to know when to pick carrots.
Thankfully, there are some easy techniques to know your carrots are ready for harvest. Keep in mind, if you pick your carrots too early or too late, they are still edible!
How to know carrots are ready:
- Dig around each carrot to reveal the roots. The most reliable way to know your carrots are ready is to look at the top of the carrot. To do this, gently dig away the first 1-2 inches from the soil surface around the base of each plant. If the top of the root is nice and wide, it is ready to be harvested.
- Count the days since planting. Another way to know your carrots are ready to pick is by counting the days since your planting date. There are many carrot varieties, each of which has its own “days to maturity” length. This can usually be found on the seed packet or website where the seed was purchased. For example, our “rainbow” carrots take 67 days from seed to harvest. So about 9 weeks after planting, we know to start looking for carrots to pick.
Some gardeners may also suggest looking at the carrot tops (greens) to judge the roots. However, I’ve found that this is not a reliable way to know that the carrots are ready.
Sometimes, a carrot plant with huge greens will have a tiny root, and vice-versa. Checking the root tops before pulling carrots is the best way to be sure!
Want better tasting carrots?
If your carrots are big, but lack flavor, there are some things you can do. A lot of the flavor develops based on the growing conditions and especially temperature.
For better tasting carrots, wait until the ground freezes in the late fall before picking. If you allow your carrots to stay in the garden until after the first frost, they will develop more sweetness.
Tip: Be careful not to wait too long to harvest after frost occurs. If the ground is frozen solid, you may have difficulty pulling the carrots out without them breaking.
If you wait too long, your carrots can take on a bitter taste. So, timing is important. In general, fall carrots are the best tasting. Plant the seeds in mid-summer for a fall harvest full of flavor.
Why are my carrots deformed?
One of the most common complaints when growing any root vegetable is weirdly-shaped roots. It’s common to pull a carrot that is warped, forked, or otherwise deformed.
The most common reason for this is rocky or heavy soil. Carrots thrive in a loose soil with no rocks or large particles. When the roots hit an obstacle (like a rock), they will try to grow around it, often leading to forking or diverging carrots.
For perfectly straight, uniform carrots, be sure to sift out the rocks in your soil before planting. Also, thin your carrots to about 3″ between plants early on in the growing season. This way, the roots will not be obstructed by anything as they expand and grow.
How To Properly Harvest Carrots
When you are ready to pick your carrots, it is important not to damage them in the process. Carrot roots can be stubborn and difficult to remove, especially after the soil has settled during the growth process.
Tips for harvesting carrots:
- Loosen the soil first. If your carrots are proving difficult to harvest, you can use a garden fork to loosen the soil before pulling. Just be careful to avoid hitting the roots as you dig in with the pitchfork.
- Hold at the base of the foliage. Get a good grip on all of the foliage, right at the base of the leaves before starting to pull. Holding all of the green tops gives you more pulling power.
- Pull directly upwards. Avoid pulling at an angle, as this can cause broken roots. It can also cause the carrot greens to break off of the root before the carrot is freed from the soil. Instead, pull straight upwards at a 90° angle from the soil.
How To Store Fresh Carrots
After successfully picking your carrots, there are many options for using them. However, if you have a larger carrot bed, you may have more than you know what to do with. Thankfully, carrots are great for long-term storage.
The best way to store carrots is in cold storage (in the refrigerator or a root cellar). The cool temperatures (between 37°F-42°F) keep the carrots firm and fresh for as long as possible.
Equally important to storage temperature is how you prepare the carrots for storage.
- Remove the greens. Right after you pick your carrots, remove the greens about 1/2″ above the carrot shoulders. I like to use a pair of sharp pruning shears to get a clean cut. Timing is important, so it’s a good idea to do this right away after harvesting.
- Don’t scrub the carrots. I do a simple rinse of my carrot harvests with the hose outdoors, but I never wash them with soap. Clean up the larger soil particles, but leave the skin and smaller debris until you are ready to use the carrots.
- Leave the “tails” intact. This may seem strange, but I have found that removing the long, thin tails at the ends of the carrots can decrease storage time. Leave them on the carrots for storage for better results.
- Choose large carrots for longer storage. Always use the smaller carrots first, saving the larger, more “perfect” carrots for storage. Bigger carrots always have a better shelf life than smaller ones.
- Store in a perforated plastic bag. Use a basic plastic produce bag to bundle the carrots together. To allow for some air exchange, poke a few holes in the bag before storing in the refrigerator or root cellar.
One other thing to consider is the type of carrot you are growing. Some carrots are specifically bred to be stored for a long time, while others are grown for immediate use. Again, larger varieties tend to store better. While large types are better for storage, they also tend to take longer to grow.
Any young carrots that are not fully developed can still be harvested and eaten as baby carrots. These immature carrots are perfectly edible, but you are not getting the most from your plants.
How long can carrots be stored?
Unlike storebought carrots, homegrown carrots can keep for up to 6 months when stored properly. This means large, unwashed carrots with the greens removed and tails intact, stored in the refrigerator.
To be safe, check on your stored carrots every few weeks to see if any have begun to rot or decay. If you notice a carrot going bad, remove it from the bags and rinse off any of the surrounding carrots before returning to storage.
Can I Harvest Carrot Seeds?
Carrots can easily be grown for their seeds, however it takes 2 years to achieve this. Since carrots are biennial, they don’t produce seed until their second growing season.
So, you’ll have to leave your carrot roots in the ground to overwinter. As they re-emerge in the following spring, they will go to flower, and eventually produce viable seeds.
It doesn’t take a lot of carrots to gather a ton of seeds. If you want to save carrot seeds, I suggest leaving just 1-2 carrots in the ground over the winter. Those plants will produce dozens of umbels the following year, each producing hundreds of seeds!
How to save carrot seeds:
- Wait for the flower clusters to dry out
- Cut the carrot umbels from the plant
- Over a large plate, gently brush the seeds out of the umbels
- Rub the seeds in a fine-mesh strainer to remove chaff
- Store the seeds in a cool, dark location for up to 3 years
By saving carrot seeds once every 2-3 years, you shouldn’t ever have to buy carrot seeds again! Keep in mind, it is best to only save seeds from heirloom varieties, not hybrids.
I hope this article helps you get a great carrot crop, every season. Their nutritional value and versatility in the kitchen make carrots a mainstay in our garden. Pair them with a few companion plants, and you’ve got the perfect veggie garden!