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Carrots are a staple in my diet – roasted, pureed, in soups or stews – they’re the perfect companion to the humble potato. So every year I make sure to sow lots of carrots so I can enjoy them all year round. The best part about these fantastic root crops? They have a very long storage life! That is, if you follow a few steps right after harvest.
Carrots can be stored for as long as 6 months in a root cellar or a space where temperatures are kept between 32° – 39° F (0° – 4° C) during winter. Carrots need high moisture to preserve well. This 90-95 % humidity level can be achieved by keeping them in moist sand or sawdust.
This year, we’ve had a fantastic crop for both summer and winter carrots. In this article, I’m going to walk you through all the steps you need to know for enjoying fresh carrots long term: harvesting, processing and storing methods.
When is the best time to harvest carrots for winter storage?
Carrots mature in 70 to 80 days. So if you sow them in spring, you’ll get your first batch of summer carrots in July. These also store well, and you can definitely succession sow carrots all year long. But the best carrots to store for winter, by far, are winter carrots.
To get winter carrots, count backwards 90 days from your first frost, and that’s how you get your sowing time. This could be July or August, depending on your climate. If you’re wondering how you’ll get carrot seeds to germinate in such hot and dry weather – don’t worry! We have a few tricks up our sleeve – like this article on carrot germination.
Winter carrots not only keep well, but they’re also much sweeter, because of an adaptation response to frost. That’s why you should harvest them after a few light frosts, but keep an eye out for any hard frosts – you don’t want the ground to freeze.
Also, keep an eye out for rain. Dry spells are ok, but heavy rain and excessively wet soil can lead to your carrots rotting in the ground. The best time to harvest carrots is right after a light rain, when the soil is not too hard and dry.
Step by step guide for harvesting and processing carrots
The best tool you can use for harvesting carrots is a garden fork to loosen the soil. Carrots are hard to pull from dry soil and they can easily break, so the best thing to do is water down your carrot patch and use a fork for each row to gently lift the carrots from underneath. They’ll be much easier to pull if you do it this way.
Harvest all the carrots at once if you can. This is for practical reasons – it’s best to sort them into different size categories (large, medium and baby carrots) since the larger carrots will store better than the smaller ones. After storing, start eating the smaller carrots first, and save the larger ones for last.
Of course, if you’ve been staying on top of thinning, you won’t get a lot of baby carrots, and ideally, most of your carrots should be the same size – large. Read our resources on thinning to see how you can make the best of your carrot harvest.
After harvesting your carrot bed, you’ll most likely end up with a huge pile of carrots. It’s time to cut their tops off and sort them. For optimum storage, snip their tops off, leaving about 1-2 inches above the root.
You can safely throw these carrot tops in the compost (especially if you don’t have carrot root fly issues) – but don’t waste them all. Carrot greens make an excellent base for pesto – just like basil or parsley – and they can also be enjoyed in salads or stir-fries.
Don’t wash the dirt off carrots before storing them. Carrots also don’t need a period of curing, like potatoes or sweet potatoes, to harden their skin. In fact, the sooner you’ll get them into a humid medium for storage, the better. The more you leave them out, even for 24 hrs, they will shrivel up and go soft.
To store them, use any spare deep containers, bins or buckets you have at hand. Lay sawdust or sand on the bottom, then a layer of carrots horizontally, cover them with sawdust or sand again and repeat the process until the container is full. Water the sawdust or sand in between and make sure to use a lid so that the water doesn’t evaporate.
Both sand and sawdust work well for this method, and I’ve read that dried leaves might work as well. I use sawdust because it’s easily available and also because of its antibacterial and antifungal properties. This way, even if a carrot tends to go bad, it doesn’t affect the rest of the crop.
As an observation, the only carrots I’ve noticed to rot using this method were the carrots that were close to the bin’s plastic edge – they weren’t fully covered with sawdust. Also, carrots touching each other didn’t seem to cause issues.
Where can you best store carrots long term?
The simple answer to this is – any cool dark place where they won’t freeze. During winter, carrots do best in temperatures just above freezing: 32 to 39 F (0 to 4 C). This can be achieved in a root cellar, a cool basement, a crawl space, or an insulated shed.
You can get creative as long as you protect your harvest from frost, but also from an excessively warm environment.
How long can carrots last over the winter?
Fresh carrots will last 4 to 6 months with proper storage.
If you’ve stored both summer and winter carrots, eat the summer carrots first. Consume the carrots from small to large, one layer at a time, trying not to disturb the other layers you’ve built.
Regularly check the upper layers for spoiled carrots. Check for proper humidity, add water if necessary and don’t forget to put the lid back on every time.
Can you use carrots that are sprouting?
After a few months, you’ll notice that light green sprouts are coming out of your carrot tops. Sprouting carrots may be past their prime, but they’re still good to eat. They will taste a bit more bland, as they’ve used their sugars for sprouting in an effort to produce a new plant.
Carrots usually sprout after 4+ months in storage, but there’s still plenty of time before they go bad, so don’t be alarmed.
I don’t understand why anyone would want to store their carrots in their fridge, for just a couple of weeks until they go limp when they can easily stay fresh for months using the methods above. This technique I’ve described isn’t limited to carrots – you can store beets and leeks in this way as well.
I’m not a big fan of freezing and canning, so, whenever I can, I try to store my harvested fruits and vegetables as fresh as possible. You can read more about crops that store well for winter to get inspired and fill up your root cellar.