Harvest Time: How and When to Pick Carrots

Growing vegetables from seed always feels like a magical feat, and carrots are no exception. Once you grow your own, there’s no going back.

And once your seedlings are coming along nicely, you’ll want to make sure you know how and when to best harvest these tasty Umbellifers.

A close up vertical picture of a hand holding a bunch of freshly picked carrots with soil still attached to the roots on a soft focus background. To the center and bottom of the frame is green and white text.

You have a few options as to when you can pick these veggies, but when it comes to how you pick them, you want to make sure you follow our recommended procedures.

A close up of a bunch of carrots with the soil still attached to the roots set on a white bowl in the garden.

I’ll get down to the nitty-gritty shortly. First, here’s a quick overview of what I’ll cover:

How to Harvest

Once you’ve taken all the necessary measures to grow a great carrot crop, harvesting involves a few additional steps: checking to make sure the roots are the right size, loosening the soil in your beds, moistening the soil, pulling them up, cutting off the greens, and storing them properly.

1. Check the Root Diameter

Most varieties are ready to pick in 70-100 days, but this varies greatly from one cultivar to the next.

While the days to maturity on your seed packet can be a big help towards knowing when to expect harvestable roots, these numbers are averages.

A close up of a row of carrots ready for harvest with the top of the roots showing above the top of the soil, fading to soft focus in the background.

You’ll also have to use your powers of observation to decide the best time to harvest your crop.

This means checking the size.

You can usually tell how big the roots are because they tend to bulge up out of the ground.

A close up of a carrot ready to harvest with the top of the root showing through the soil under the foliage. Pictured in bright sunshine fading to soft focus in the background.

If you don’t see the roots bulging above the surface of the soil, you can brush some of the soil away from the tops to see how big around they are.

You can pick your carrots at any stage, but folks generally wait until they are about 1/2 inch in diameter to get decent-sized roots.

2. Irrigate First

You might wonder whether it’s better to have dry or damp soil when harvesting your crop.

Jill MacKenzie at the University of Minnesota Extension recommends making sure these veggies are properly hydrated before picking.

A close up of small seedlings growing in the garden in the rain on a soft focus background.

To do so, she advises planning your harvest for the day after you’ve received some rain, or the day after irrigating your crop.

So, for nice, well-hydrated roots, make sure your soil is moist – but not soggy, as this will make digging them up and removing them messier.

3. Loosen the Soil

Once you are satisfied that they are a harvestable size and your soil is moist, it’s time to loosen the soil in your carrot bed.

Use a hand cultivator, shovel, or hori hori knife to loosen the soil around your roots, freeing them.

A close up of a red garden fork pushed into soil, digging up root vegetables.

This is an important step to ensure that the roots don’t break off in the soil – which is likely to happen if you attempt to pull them straight out of unloosened earth.

During this process, keep your garden tool far enough away from the roots to prevent inadvertently slicing, poking, or severing them.

4. Pull Up the Roots

Now that your soil  is nice and loose, your carrots should easily slide out of the ground.

A close up of two hands from the right of the frame pulling carrots out of the ground, with green tops in the background.

If they resist your efforts to pull them up, use your chosen garden tool to loosen the soil a bit more.

Once you have pulled them out of the ground, don’t wash them unless you plan to eat your entire crop within the next few weeks.

A close up of two hands pulling root vegetables out of the soil in the garden, in bright sunshine fading to soft focus in the background.

Instead, just brush off the excess soil, mud, or sand in preparation for storage.

5. Remove Tops

Before you store your crop, you will want to cut the green tops off.

A close up of hands from the right of the frame holding a knife and cutting the tops off from freshly harvested carrots, with soil still attached to the roots, in bright sunshine fading to soft focus in the background.

Trim the greens, leaving 1 inch of the top on each still attached.

You can do this either with the serrated edge of your hori hori knife or garden pruners, or a sharp kitchen knife.

Even though fresh carrots look beautiful with their tops still attached, leaving the greens on will leech delicious sugars from the roots.

A close up vertical picture of freshly picked carrots lying on the garden soil with the tops still attached and soil still on the roots.

And if you’re planning for long term storage, the greens can rot, potentially contaminating your harvest and causing them to spoil.

So just cut them off, and either compost them or wash and use them in the kitchen – I like to use my greens to make pesto.

A close up top down picture of a dark gray roasting pan filled with root vegetables and a small bowl of freshly prepared pesto.

You can find some delicious pesto recipes on our sister site, Foodal.

6. Store in a Cool Location

So, you now have a pile or two of unearthed roots, still slightly dirty but not caked in mud, with their tops removed.

A close up of carrots freshly harvested with soil still on the roots set out in a market stall.

If your crop is small enough that you plan to eat it right away – say, within the next month or so – you can go ahead and give them all a thorough cleaning.

I like to do this outside, so that dirt and sand doesn’t clog up my kitchen sink pipes.

A man and a woman holding freshly harvested carrots and washing them with a metal watering can, pictured in bright sunshine with a wooden fence in the background.

When your clean roots are dry, store them in a perforated plastic bag in the produce drawer of your fridge.

If you are keeping some of your crop for long term storage, forego this thorough cleaning. A little dirt and a lack of added moisture will help it to last longer in storage.

A storage basement with shelves containing jars of pickled garden produce and some black plastic crates storing root vegetables.

Carrots store well at around 32°F with high relative humidity. Pack them in moist sand in a crate, and store it in a cool basement or root cellar.

They should last 4-6 months, though it’s a good idea to check on them occasionally and remove any that show any signs of rot.

When to Harvest

You have options as to when to pick your crop, since these veggies grow well in cool weather and are fairly cold hardy.

Most importantly, you’ll want to make sure you pick them before they go to seed – I’ll get to that just a little later.

A close up of freshly harvested carrots with soil still on the roots, set on the ground in the garden in light filtered sunshine.

For now, it’s up to you to decide – when do you want to eat your carrots?

Summer

If you want to nibble on your carrots throughout the summer, make sure you plant them in early spring, and then pick whenever they are big enough for your liking.

A close up of a large clump of carrot tops demonstrating that the roots may be ready to harvest, with soil in the background.

If you plan to pick only some of your crop during the summer, at the baby stage, and leave some for the fall, make sure to pull the roots up carefully.

The same applies if you are succession planting, or growing more than one cultivar with different times to maturity.

A close up of the top of the soil showing a row of carrots with the top of the roots pushing through and light sunshine filtering through the foliage.

While carrots look pretty sturdy, they are very sensitive to being disturbed while they are growing.

Fall

Autumn is the best time to harvest these veggies, because that’s when they tend to be the sweetest, after temperatures dip below freezing.

A close up of freshly harvested carrots with soil on the roots and the tops still attached set on a wooden surface.

Picking your veggies after a couple of frosts will make them taste sweeter – lower temperatures will tell the plant to start storing sugar in its roots instead of its greens.

Winter

Some gardeners prefer to store our carrots in the ground during winter, using the earth as a form of outdoor refrigeration.

If you opt for this method, you can dig your crops up at any time during the winter, until your soil freezes solid – just make sure to dig them up before temperatures start to warm up in spring.

A close up of two hands holding freshly harvested and washed roots with the tops still attached, on a soft focus background.

Once your carrots start growing their tops back at the end of winter, this means they are taking sugar back up from the roots, and diverting it toward leaf and seed production.

This is great if you want them to produce seeds that you can store and replant, but not so good if you want sweet, edible roots.

A close up of freshly harvested carrots set on the ground in the bright sunshine in the garden.

So if you leave your crop in the garden over winter, dig them up in late winter or early spring – before new top growth emerges.

The Root of the Matter

You now have a plan for harvesting your homegrown carrots!

Refer to your seed packets for time to maturity, check the tops of your crop to make sure they are the size you want them to be, pick them from the ground carefully, trim the greens, and store them properly.

Decide if you want to munch on fresh carrots throughout the summer, or keep them as a winter food supply.

A vertical picture of freshly picked carrots with the tops still attached and soil on the roots set on a wooden surface with grass in the background.

So, what’s it going to be? Will you use your crop as a summertime source of fresh food, or will you store it for the winter? And what will you do with those fresh, green tops? Let us know in the comments.

And for more information about growing carrots in your garden, you’ll need these guides next:


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A collage of photos showing carrots being harvested from the garden.

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About Kristina Hicks-Hamblin

Kristina Hicks-Hamblin lives on a dryland permaculture homestead in the high desert of Utah. Originally from the temperate suburbs of North Carolina, she enjoys discovering ways to meet a climate challenge. She is a Certified Permaculture Designer and a Building Biology Environmental Consultant, and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Kristina loves the challenges of dryland gardening and teaching others to use climate compatible gardening techniques, and she strives towards creating gardens where there are as many birds and bees as there are edibles. Kristina considers it a point of pride that she spends more money on seeds each year than she does on clothes.

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