One of the delights of harvesting a root crop is you will have no idea how successful you have been until you actually lift them. Just like tearing paper from Christmas parcels you may be delighted, surprised, amused or disappointed. The longer you leave the crop the bigger they should be. If you like those tender, sweet, juicy young carrots then you can start to lift after 6 – 8 weeks of growing time. If, like me, you prefer them with a less strong taste then give them another month. When ready your carrots should just pull from the ground but they may need a little fork action first to loosen the soil around them being careful not to stick the fork into your carrots. Grab the fern like leaves near the base and gently lift.
Harvesting hints and tips
- If your carrots prove to be difficult use a hand fork to gently loosen the ground near them and tug again.
- If you have a large crop and want to lift them all in one session then use a garden fork but be carful not to damage them with the prongs.
- Brush off any loose soil and break off the leaves approx 3-5 cm from the top of your carrot.
- The leaves make good compost.
- Carrots will happily stay in the ground until you need them and this is the best way to store them in the short term. I am assured by my carrot loving family and friends that the freshly picked are the best to eat, so if you can pick them as you need them, all the better!
- Remember undamaged carrots, as you would expect, will keep better than damaged ones. So when you lift them use the damaged ones up first.
- Carrots that are not straight taste as good as the straight ones and store just as well so don't throw away the wonky ones.
- Check for signs of Carrot Root fly, you will see little holes in the roots. These carrots should be used not stored.
Storing fresh carrots short term - if you lift more carrots than you need for one meal, fresh carrots keep better in a refrigerator than in a vegetable basket, where they will quickly go soft if you are not careful. They will keep for a couple of weeks or so in the refrigerator quite happily. You should always remove the leaves as they will draw nutrients from the carrots and the root will go softer quicker. Store them lose in the drawer and not in a plastic bag.
Storing fresh carrots long term - main crop carrots should be used for long term storage rather than early varieties, and will store for up to 6 months if handled with care. Only use carrots in top condition as any damage will cause the carrot to rot and risk the rest of your crop. Remove the leaves to 3-5cm and lay the carrots in sand in a sturdy box, build up in layers with sand covering the top. Do not let the roots touch. Place the box in a dry, cool, dark place such as a garage or cold cupboard. Check regularly for signs of rotten carrots and remove them to protect the rest.
Frozen - carrots will freeze successfully for 3 – 6 months. Slice them into rounds, blanch them in boiling water for 2 – 3 mins then dunk them in ice cold water. Pack portions in freezer bags, make sure you label and date the bags.
Pickled/bottled - carrots make a great addition to pickles and chutneys, have a go.
Canned - perfectly possible and available in any supermarket, I'll leave it to the experts though
Dried - perfectly possible, if dried they are usually found in freeze dried ready meals that need water adding, again I'll leave that to the experts