It’s difficult to tell what’s happening to your carrots, since most of their growing is done underground. That’s why gardeners often feel a little confused about when to start pulling them up. After all, you can’t put a carrot back in the ground to continue growing! Once it’s out, it’s out.
There are a few key signs you can look for to know that it’s time, although some of it also depends on preference. With that in mind, here’s how you can tell that your carrots are ready to harvest.
Since you’re looking at this post on harvesting carrots, yours are probably already growing in the ground. If you’re learning about carrots before planting, be sure to read this post on carrot sprouts and this post on growing carrots for information about planting and growing these popular veggies.
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When to Harvest Carrots
Carrots are usually ready to be harvested about 2-3 months after being started from seed. This will vary depending on the variety you’re growing, how quickly it matures, and your specific weather, but this gives you a good idea of when to start checking on your carrots. Make sure to check your seed packet, or look for information about your variety online, to see how many days the variety you’re growing typically takes.
Pulling carrots too early will typically give you bland roots (not baby carrots). Leaving them in the ground too long can yield tough or split roots. So-called “baby carrots” from the grocery store aren’t actually really young carrots. They’re cut down to size. Read more about this practice here. If you want delicious, homegrown “baby” carrots, try a smaller variety and allow them to grow to maturity.
That being said, there is no one perfect time to pick carrots – it all depends on what size you want them to be. Even the tiniest carrots are edible. I typically grow smaller varieties of carrots, and pick them smaller, because I usually grow them in containers. (Smaller carrots are also ready sooner!) Your carrots may be larger than what you see in this post.
Generally, you can start harvesting carrots anytime after they have a diameter that is about ½” across. You can check the diameter by looking at the top of the carrot that is sticking out of the soil. If you can’t see any of your carrots, brush the soil away until you see or feel the diameter of one.
Carrots come in many shapes and sizes, so pick according to what’s normal and desired for your carrots. For example, Paris Market carrots are globe-shaped, like a radish, so you should pick them once they’re an inch or larger. Oxheart carrots are large, but short and blunt. They can reach 3-4” in length, but be almost 5” across at their widest point. Wait for your oxheart carrots to be a couple of inches across for picking. The carrots below are Parisian so you can see the shape I’m referring to:
Not confident your ability to estimate lengths? Your thumb from tip to the first knuckle is probably about an inch long. Hold your thumb beside the top of your growing carrot to quickly estimate how wide it is. The exposed top of the carrot, as shown below, is slightly narrower than the broadest point for most cylindrical carrots. The broadest point for a Parisian, Oxheart, or similar will be much broader than the exposed top portion.
Small carrots are the most tender and generally have the best flavor but they are, of course, small. Larger carrots will give you more of the veggie to eat but can get woody if you leave them in the ground too long.
Pick a few that are different sizes to find out which you prefer. You may find that the joy of eating true baby carrots (not cut baby carrots like you find at the store) is great enough that you’re willing to “lose” the extra carrot you could have grown by keeping it in the ground longer!
Fall Harvest + Overwintering Carrots
Many people plant carrots in the spring to harvest in the summer, but planting them in the summer for a fall harvest is also a great option. Carrots are very cold hardy and usually taste sweeter when grown in the fall.
If you can, leave some of your crop in the ground for one or two frosts to get an extra sweet flavor when you do pick them. Growing guru Eliot Coleman writes that his winter carrots are incredibly sweet and one of his all-time customer favorites. For more information about his techniques, be sure to check out his book Winter Harvest Handbook. He grows all year using unheated greenhouses in Maine – you can, too!
- Coleman, Eliot (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 264 Pages - 04/15/2009 (Publication Date) - Chelsea Green Publishing (Publisher)
In zone 8a, I typically grow carrots all winter without covering them. The images from this post were taken in late-December and early February.
If you have more carrots than you can eat in the fall, you can actually leave them in the ground to store them. Just cover them with a very thick layer of shredded leaves or a similar natural material when temperatures consistently drop below freezing.
You don’t need to cover them for a quick cold snap. The carrot tops will wilt after a freeze, but the carrots shown below were fine after a small snowfall, even though the soil in their containers was frozen:
You can pull back the mulch anytime during the winter to harvest some carrots (as long as the ground isn’t frozen solid). If you go with this technique, make sure to monitor your crop for damage. If hungry rodents or bunnies find your carrots, they will be quick to steal a meal.
If your mulch is thick enough, your carrots may even make it through the entire winter! In this case, harvest them as soon as you can in spring, or they will start to send up a flower stalk and become essentially inedible.
How to Harvest Carrots
Harvesting carrots is usually a little trickier than just pulling them out of the ground. Unless you have very loose soil, you’ll need to loosen the ground around your carrots before picking them.
Carrots, even small ones, have a lot of tiny roots and are surprisingly well-anchored in the ground. You can see some of these root hairs in the photo below. If you’re used to “store” carrots, not carrots pulled fresh from the ground, this appearance may surprise you.
If you want to harvest a whole patch of carrots at once, use a shovel or a large garden fork to break up the soil underneath the carrots. Try not to puncture any roots but do work to lift them part of the way out of the ground.
If you’re growing in containers, like my Greenstalk Grower shown in the photos, and you’re harvesting the entire tier, you can jiggle the container sides, or even dump it out.
Once the carrots have been loosened, pull them the rest of the way out with your hands.
If you want to harvest just a carrot or two at a time, try using a smaller tool like a sharp garden trowel or a soil knife. Loosen the soil around the sides and get as much underneath each carrot as you can. Try to lift each one out without disturbing its neighbors. You can also try to gently rock the carrot back and forth to free it, but this is more likely to disturb neighboring carrots.
Tips for Storing Carrots
Now that you know how and when to harvest carrots, you may have some extras you want to store.
As mentioned before, one of the best places to “store” carrots is in the ground unless you want to pick them before they grow any more.
After harvesting, you have a few options for storing carrots.
First, trim the tops off of your carrots or they will go limp quickly (the tops can be composted or eaten). For short term storage, wash the carrots and store them in plastic bags in the refrigerator. They should stay crisp for a few weeks. If your carrots go limp, soak them in a bowl of water in the fridge for several hours. This makes them crispy again! Try it – you really can revive floppy carrots this way. It’s awesome.
For longer term storage, do not wash the carrots after trimming off the tops. Do cut the tops off, though. This is very important. Store them covered in a medium like sand or sawdust somewhere cool and dry. Carrots can last up to 5 or 6 months when stored this way, and you can pull them out to eat as needed.
Carrot greens are edible and have a carrot-y flavor. We’ve used carrot greens to make chimichurri before. It can also work well for carrot top pesto, carrot green tabouli, garnish, and even smoothies.
Enjoying Your Carrot Harvest
Eating freshly harvested carrots is so much better than eating store bought ones. When grown the right way and pulled at the right time, carrots picked straight from the garden are very sweet, crisp, and delicious. I don’t even bother with peeling my carrots or trying to get all the tiny root hairs off – I just give them a quick wash and enjoy them, raw or roasted:
Though they may have a bit of character – a funny shape or a little bit of stubbiness – homegrown carrots are far more delicious than what you can buy at the store. I hope you enjoy growing and harvesting your own!
Natasha Garcia-Lopez is an avoid home-gardener and proud owner of 88 acres of land in rural West Virginia. She was a member of the Association for Living History Farms and Agricultural Museums for many years and is currently enrolled in the Oregon State University Master Gardner Short Course program so she can better assist you with your gardening questions.She holds a certificate in natural skincare from the School of Natural Skincare.