Harvesting, storing & preserving carrots

Regina
Regina
Regina
Regina

I studied horticultural sciences at university and in my free time you can find me in my own patch of land, growing anything with roots. I am particularly passionate about self-sufficiency and seasonal food.

Favourite fruit: quince, cornelian cherry and blueberries
Favourite vegetables: peas, tomatoes and garlic

When are carrots ripe for harvesting and what should you keep in mind? Find out everything about harvesting carrots and how to store and preserve them here.

Pile of freshly harvested carrots
The harvest time of carrots depends strongly on the variety, the cultivation period, and the weather [Photo: Alekcey-Elena/ Shutterstock.com]

Carrots (Daucus carota subsp. sativus) can be sown over a long period of time, making their harvest time flexible. With the right conditions, carrots sown at the end of February, for example, can be harvested from the end of May. Late-season carrots sown in May remain in the ground for much longer and are harvested and stored before the first frost or snow. Here are our tips on harvesting and storing carrots.

Harvesting carrots: timing and procedure

Carrots can be harvested at any stage – small tender carrots, also called baby carrots, can be harvested just a few weeks after sowing. The optimal time depends on the variety, but also on the weather conditions. Carrots grow much more slowly in cool weather than in warmer temperatures. Carrot varieties can be divided into different ripening groups from early to late ripening. Bolt-resistant carrots can be sown outdoors as early as March and are ready for harvesting as early as June. Late carrots take much longer to grow and are harvested from August to October. You can read about what to bear in mind when planting carrots for a rich harvest in our in-depth article.

Carrots still in the ground
Carrot size can be gauged based on stalk diameter [Photo: Dolores M. Harvey/ Shutterstock.com]

When to harvest carrots

Knowing when carrots are ready to harvest is a matter of taste. The bigger the roots get, the more intense their flavour becomes. Harvested early, carrots are sweeter, milder and tender. Late-harvested large carrots have a more intense taste but are less juicy and can sometimes be a little bitter. If you enjoy carrots in all sizes, simply harvest as needed. Check the root diameter, pull the carrots out of the ground and, well, taste them to see how big the taproots are and how they taste.

Keep in mind, the greater the space between the carrot plants, the more room they have to grow and become nice and big. If you suspect that your carrots are not getting any bigger because they are too close together, try harvesting those carrots that are competing for space with others. Leave the remaining carrots in the bed for a few more weeks to take advantage of the space that has been freed up.

Person pulling carrots from soil
It is easy to harvest carrots [Photo: Dean Clarke/ Shutterstock.com]

How to harvest carrots

In very sandy soil, just grab carrots by the leaf stalks near the root head and gently pull and twist them out of the dirt. In heavier soils, use a fork to loosen the ground before picking the carrots. After harvesting the carrots, fill in the leftover holes with soil and press down.

Should I cut off the carrot tops? Twist off the carrot leaves directly after harvesting – the foliage takes a lot of moisture from the carrots during storage, causing them to go limp much faster. Either compost the carrot tops or use the leaves to make healthy smoothies and pesto. Rabbits and other small rodents also love to munch on carrot tops.

How to store carrots

Carrots are excellent for picking as needed, so there is rarely any need to store them for long. Harvesting in winter is also possible, but only in frost-free areas. To make life easier, many people like to start storing carrots in autumn, so they do not have to dig in the garden in winter. Washed carrots will only keep for a few days even at low temperatures, whereas unwashed roots will keep for several weeks to months. Only completely healthy and undamaged carrots are suitable for storage – damaged carrots may develop storage rot. Eat any carrots that were damaged during harvesting straightaway rather than storing them.

Carrots stored in a refrigerator
Store carrots in the fridge, preferably in the vegetable drawer [Photo: Michal – MPstudio/ Shutterstock.com]

Storing carrots in the fridge

Carrots lose moisture quickly, so they should be stored in a cool place with high relative humidity. The refrigerator is a great short-term storage spot for carrots. Remove any soil from your carrots and wash them before putting them in the crisper. Wrapped in newspaper, or in a bag with a few air holes to prevent mould, the carrots will keep for a good week.

Storing carrots in sand

Late-season carrots, which are harvested in autumn before the first frost or snow, are traditionally stored unwashed in sand boxes, earth cellars or cool frost-free rooms at 0 to 1°C. Under optimal conditions, they can be kept here for up to eight months. Storing carrots in moist sand also has the advantage that the carrots hardly lose any moisture during storage. Carrots intended for propagation are also stored in this manner until it is time to plant them the following spring. Check carrots stored in sand or in boxes in a cellar regularly for storage rot. Remove infected carrots immediately.

rotten carrots on parchment paper
Carrots can be affected by storage rot if they are damaged or poorly stored [Photo: Ian Dyball/ Shutterstock.com]

Freezing carrots

Carrots can be prepared in advance for cooking, i.e., peeled and cut, and then frozen. Bear in mind, this changes their consistency a little – carrots tend to become soft and mushy after defrosting. Therefore, this form of preservation is ideal for stews, soups and other dishes in which carrots are pureed.

Boiling, fermenting and pickling carrots

Just like courgettes (Cucurbita pepo), cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) or peppers (Capsicum), carrots can be pickled or fermented. Brine is suitable for this, but so is vinegar broth with various spices. Boil finely sliced carrots for 5 – 10 minutes, pack into jars, cover with hot vinegar and seal. The ingredients used for pickling are a matter of taste. Pickled carrots can be kept for several months. This versatile root vegetable can also be used to make carrot relish, carrot butter, sweet carrot jam, and fruity chutney.

Carrot jam in a jar
There are many different methods of preserving carrots [Photo: Ahanov Michael/ Shutterstock.com]

Preparing carrots

Carrots can be eaten raw or cooked. They do not need to be peeled; just remove the green stalk. Carrots do not need to be peeled for juicing either. It is best to leave the peel on tender baby carrots, as the peel is high in nutrients. Large and stored carrots, on the other hand, often have a thicker, somewhat bitter tasting skin. It is worthwhile to peel these before eating them raw.

How nutritious are carrots?

Carrots are considered a healthy vegetable because they are high in provitamin A, the pigment beta-carotene. This is turned into vitamin A in the body and is especially important for normal function of the eyes, skin and immune system. Carrots also contain vitamin C, E and various B vitamins as well as potassium. Since the roots are the storage reservoirs of the carrot plant, they also contain sugar and various aromatic oils, such as myrcene, which contribute to the typical carrot flavour. For people with digestive problems, a carrot soup, known as Moro’s carrot soup, is often recommended. To make Moro’s carrot soup: boil carrots for about 90 minutes, or until soft, then puree them and season with a pinch of salt – this soup is easy-to-digest and rich in vitamins and electrolytes.

The carrot fly (Psila rosae) is one of the most significant carrot pests. Learn more about this insect in and get tips on prevention and control in our article.

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