Carrots are a great crop for new gardeners but one common question that arises is how to know when carrots are ready to harvest.
Understanding when to harvest carrots can be one of the trickiest things for a new gardener. After all, you do not want to go to all the hard work of growing them, only to harvest the bulk of your crop before they reach their full potential.
There are few hard and fast rules about when exactly carrots are ready to harvest.
The truth of the matter is that you can harvest them at any time – and you can eat even the smallest of carrots.
But of course, there will be a time when the carrots reach a decent size and taste their best. Harvesting at the perfect moment will mean you obtain as large a yield as possible.
Consult the Seed Packet
The first way to find out when to harvest your carrots is to look closely at the seed packet. Often, information about the time to harvest will be included on the pack.
Even when it does not tell you on the packet how long the carrots you are growing will take to reach maturity, it will still give you the variety information which can allow you to research this question online and understand when the particular carrots you are growing are likely to reach mature size.
Check Online For Days-To-Harvest Information
Once you are clear on which particular variety or varieties of carrot you are growing, you can look up days-to-harvest for that particular variety.
Often, you will be able to find a rough idea of the time to maturity.
Of course, a range of different environmental factors will determine this number in reality.
But getting a rough idea of days to harvest means that you have a ballpark idea of when to check for maturity in other ways.
Thin and Eat Baby Carrots When Rows Look Overcrowded
Remember, it might not be the best policy to leave all your carrots to reach a fully mature size.
Often, you will want to harvest some carrots a little earlier to give the remaining carrots in the row the space they need to grow to full size.
It is a good idea to thin rows and pull up baby carrots when your rows begin to look overcrowded.
These small carrots can still be very useful, even if they have not reached their full potential.
Understand What Size The Variety You’re Growing Should Be At Maturity
Of course, when we talk about a carrot reaching full size, it is important to remember that this size can be very different depending on the particular variety or varieties you have decided to grow. There is no optimal carrot size.
Some carrots have been bred for short, fat roots, and others for long thin ones. Some varieties grow enormous, while others will always be relatively small no matter how long you leave them in the ground.
Make sure, again, that you know which type or types you are growing. Make sure you know how large they can potentially grow. Without this information, there is no way to know if you are growing your carrots to the optimal size.
Look at the Top of the Carrot Root
When the time when you think your carrots might be ready to harvest approaches, one important clue that they might be ready is the size of the little bit of carrot root showing above the soil.
When this seems to match the optimal size for the variety you are growing, it might be harvest time.
If you cannot see the top of the root, move away any mulch and excavate the soil a little, very carefully, to see what the top of the root looks like.
Pull One or Two Carrots To Check
There is one sure-fire way to know when carrots are ready to harvest. That is simply to pull one or two carrots out of the ground to see their size.
If they are a size that you are happy with, then you can go ahead and harvest the lot.
If they are not quite there yet and you think that they may get a bit bigger then simply eat the smaller carrots you have pulled up and leave the rest for a while longer.
Why You Might Sometimes Want to Hold Off Harvesting Mature Carrots
Carrots sown earlier in the year can sometimes become woody and not taste as good if they are left in the ground too long over the summer months.
So harvesting when carrots are a little on the small side can be better than leaving them too long.
However, as the end of the growing season approaches, it can sometimes make sense to hold off on harvesting carrots, even if they have reached a good size.
The thing is, carrots can be left in the ground once cooler weather arrives, and harvested as and when needed. And this can sometimes be the best and easiest way to store them.
Another thing to bear in mind is that carrots can often taste better after they have been exposed to the first few frosts.
This is because the cold breaks down starches into plant sugars – so your carrots, other root crops, and several other vegetables can actually taste a little sweeter.
A permaculture garden designer, sustainability consultant and freelance writer, Elizabeth works as an advocate for positive change. She aims to inspire others to reconnect with nature and live in a more eco-friendly way. She also tries to practice what she preaches as she tends her own forest garden, polyculture beds and polytunnel. See her personal website here.