Home gardens are having a moment. They’re a great hobby and a fantastic way to take advantage of your outdoor space, cut down on food costs, and make sure that the food you are eating is nutritious, delicious, and free of pesticides and harmful additives. But of course, this brings up another dilemma for the novice farmer: How do you know when your crops are ready to harvest?
Let’s focus on one of the most popular garden crops, carrots. Carrots are popular because they:
- Are easy to grow, especially in gardens with deep, loose soil
- Can be used in a broad array of dishes (boiled, or in salads, soups, stews, sauces, and even as juice)
- Can grow year-round in relatively mild climates
- Are very nutritious. A half-cup serving provides as much as four times the recommended daily allowance of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is a form of Vitamin A that is essential for healthy skin, mucus membranes, a strong immune system, and good vision.
So how do you know when your carrots are ready to pull? Here are some tips.
1. Know what variety of carrots you planted
A good rule of thumb is that most carrots are ready to be pulled when their shoulders are one-half to three-quarters of an inch in diameter. However, the harvest time depends greatly on the variety of carrot that you planted. Baby carrots are typically ready to pull about 50 to 60 days from the planting date. Mature carrots, on the other hand, typically need about 75 days from the planting date. Make sure to check your seed packet to know roughly how far from the planting date you should plan to harvest.
2. Make sure you harvest your carrots correctly
It might be tempting to simply yank the green leaves from the ground when you think your carrots are ready to be harvested. However, pulling in this manner seldom yields any carrots; in fact, you might well come up empty-handed! Carrots cling to the ground tightly. Instead, you should use a garden fork to loosen the ground before you pull. Once you’ve harvested the carrots, make sure you wash them and cut the foliage off before storing them.
3. Time your harvest
The correct time to pull your carrots also depends on when you plan to use them. You can leave the carrots in the soil for an additional four weeks after they are ready to harvest without any negative consequences. If it’s wintertime, you can leave them even longer. However, you need to pull them before the soil freezes over. If placed in the fridge, whole carrots can go about a month or slightly longer before they start to go bad. Baby carrots have a shorter shelf life: they must be used within three to four weeks post-harvest. In order to make sure you are cooking the freshest carrots possible, you should only pick the number of carrots you think you will use over the next month.
Proper storage can also help to extend your carrots’ shelf life. You should clean them and remove the green foliage on top before you store them. Make sure you store them in the humidity-controlled vegetable drawer in your fridge and keep them away from apples and pears. These fruits release a gas that can be harmful to the carrots, making them bitter-tasting and speeding up their ripening (and therefore rotting) process. If you’re running low on fridge space, you can also place your carrots in a bucket of sand and store them in a cool room or cellar.
For maximum shelf life, you can freeze the carrots. Dice them up and place them into freezer Ziploc bags. Make sure you don’t over-fill the bags; you want them packed loosely. Otherwise, the carrots will stick together, and you will have to defrost the entire bag to use any of them. Once defrosted, a carrots’ standard ripening process will commence. To preserve taste and freshness, carrots should not be frozen again once they’ve been defrosted. Other ways to maximize shelf life include canning or pickling the carrots.
That’s it! Good luck on your next harvest!