QUESTION: How do you know when carrots are ready to harvest? When should I harvest them? What about the carrot greens? -Ginny S.
ANSWER: Carrots are typically ready to harvest 40 to 55 days after sowing seed. If harvesting the greens, they are ready to harvest when they reach four to six inches in height. If you are only harvesting the leaves, cut them from the plant when they reach the appropriate size, taking care to leave 1 inch or so of leaves above the crown of the plant. As long as the crown is not harmed during the harvesting and enough of the leaves are left behind, more leaves will grow in their place.
You can often see the top of the bright orange top of the root sticking out of the surface of the soil when it is ready to be harvested, which is also called crowning. Since you have usually planted all your carrots at the same time, you can often pull out one of them that looks ready because it is crowning, and then you’ll get a better idea if the rest of them are also ready to come out. Carrots, like many root vegetables, do best in loose soil. So it should not be difficult to pull one out when you are checking.
Since it is the root of the plant, it is edible at any point. You are really just waiting for the carrot root to be big enough to be worth harvesting. It’s not a good idea harvest them when they’re tiny immature carrots though, because they’ll get bigger if you let them keep growing, and you’ll have more to enjoy.
As you can pull your carrot plants at several different stages of growth, when to harvest homegrown carrots depends on whether you prefer larger, more robust bulbs, or tender, sweeter young roots. There are different methods for harvesting carrots. Some are pulled and bunched together with stems and leaves intact and are best taken when the bulbs are approximately two inches in diameter. Those that are topped, or have had the greens removed, should be harvested when the bulbs are three inches in diameter.
The actual time for harvesting a carrot root will vary based on the variety you are growing and the growing conditions. Plants that grow in less than ideal conditions will take longer to mature. If you are harvesting the greens, this will also slow the production of the bulbs and they will take longer before being ready for harvest. Maturation from seed can take anywhere between 28 and 75 days. Larger varieties will take longer to reach full size, however, you can take them when they are smaller if you prefer a milder, sweeter tasting carrot.
Carrots are harvested in the spring and fall. Fall carrots should be harvested before the ground freezes but generally have a sweeter flavor when exposed to light frosts. If your carrot crop is not harvested before the cold weather, the roots may crack or rot in the soil. As carrots have a long shelf life in cold storage, it is recommended that you pull the entire crop by late fall. In temperate zones, carrot harvests can be stored in the ground longer by piling mulch around the plants to protect the roots from freezing. No wonder carrots are such popular vegetables for the home garden.