Carrots are one of the most popular vegetables and for good reason. They’re delicious, chock-full of nutrients, and can be harvested pretty much any time of year. But the key to having the best carrots is knowing when they’re ready. 

Carrots are ready for harvest when their shoulders begin to poke out of the ground and look to be about the size of a quarter. For a summer harvest, plant your seeds in early spring, and for a fall harvest, plant your seeds no later than mid-August. 

Read on for tips on when and how to harvest your carrots. As a bonus, I’ll share some recommendations on what to do with carrots that have bolted.

When is it time to start harvesting carrots?

Carrots are awesome because they can be grown almost all year round. You can succession plant your carrots early spring through early fall for a continuous harvest throughout the year. 

Just remember that any carrot you plant in the fall will need to be overwintered and harvested by the time spring rolls around again. 

Seeds will take about 2 to 3 weeks to germinate and a colder spring or fall may prolong this process. Once seedlings are about an inch or two tall, you’ll want to thin them so you don’t have too many carrots competing for space as they grow. Here’s a great article that explains exactly how to thin carrots.

Carrots will take about 60 to 75 days to reach full maturity. But depending on the variety it may be sooner or later than that. 

In the chart below, I’ve listed some popular carrot varieties and when you can expect to harvest them.

When to Harvest Carrots
Carrot VarietySpring PlantedSummer Planted
DanversJune-AugustSeptember-November
BoleroJune- AugustSeptember-November
MokumMay- JulyAugust-October
RainbowMay-JulyAugust-October
NectarMay-JulyAugust-October
AdelaideApril-JuneJuly-September

It’s important to note that carrots can be planted in the fall but need to be planted at least 12 weeks before the first frost date so that they have time to mature. If you choose to overwinter your carrots, you can harvest them at any point during the winter and early spring.

Visual signs that carrots are ready for harvest

Carrots can sometimes be deceiving because their greens can get quite large making you think that the carrot underground is equally as large. But, when you go to pull it up, you find that the carrot is actually tiny. 

One way to tell if it’s harvest time is to look at the shoulders of your carrots. The shoulders are the top of the carrot which will often start to pop out of the ground when they are big enough. 

Carrot shoulders should be about an inch in diameter or the size of a quarter. Of course, size will vary based on the variety that you’re growing. 

Sometimes the shoulders aren’t always visible. For me, the easiest way to check and see if my carrots are the correct size is to just dig one or two up. That way I know exactly how the carrots are doing. 

If you planted your carrots in the fall and over-wintered them, you may find that the greens have died back by the time spring rolls around. This is okay! The colder winter weather will not harm the carrot underground. 

Baby carrots

You can harvest your carrots before they reach full size to have your very own baby carrots. There are also certain varieties like Little Finger, Adelaide, or Shin Kuroda that won’t get much longer than 5 inches and are true baby carrot varieties.

Baby carrots are just as delicious as full-sized carrots and can be a great option if you have limited garden space or are doing container gardening. 

Carrot leaves

Carrot leaves are completely edible and quite delicious. My favorite way to prepare them is by turning them into carrot top pesto!

Just make sure that you don’t collect the greens before the carrots are ready to be harvested. Removing carrot tops will stunt the growth of your carrots as all of the plant’s energy is now going back into producing greens again. 


I find that using the greens as I harvest the carrots works just fine for me. But, if you do want some and your carrots aren’t quite ready yet, try to harvest them from several different carrots and don’t leave any completely without greens. 

How to harvest carrots

There’s a little bit more work involved in harvesting carrots than people think. Most of us (myself included) just want to pull the carrots out with our hands. But, this often leads to pulling off the greens and leaves the carrots still in the ground. 

The best method for harvesting carrots is to use a trowel, spade, or digging fork to loosen up the soil. Harvesting after a rain can also help loosen the soil, making the carrots easier to remove from the ground.

While I prefer using a digging fork, I sometimes run into the problem of piercing some carrots by accident. This isn’t that big of a deal if you plan to use your carrots soon. But pierced or split carrots can dry out quicker and therefore won’t store well. 

Storing carrots

The most important thing to do when you plan to store carrots is to remove the greens. If the greens are not removed, your carrots may not be as sweet as you were expecting because the sugars have gone back into the leaves. The greens are also more susceptible to rot. 

You have a lot of different options when it comes to how you store your carrots. But, the most foolproof method of preserving carrots is simply keeping them in the ground until you’re ready to eat them. 

Here’s a great article that breaks down everything you need to know when you’re ready to store your carrots.

What to do with bolted carrots

Carrots are biennial meaning it takes them two years to complete their full life cycle. Because carrots take so long to complete a life cycle, it’s very rare that they will bolt before you harvest them. 

But, on the off-chance that your carrots do flower, here’s what you can do with them. 

Saving Seeds

Seed saving is a great way to save money by ensuring your seed supply for next year. When carrots bolt, they send up a tall shoot that develops into a white flower at the end. These flowers are what contain the seeds.

By drying out the flower heads, you can shake out the seeds and store them for the next season. Just make sure you only save seeds from heirloom carrots and not hybrid ones or the seeds may not grow true to type. 

Eating bolted carrots

While there’s nothing technically wrong with eating carrots that have bolted, you’re likely to find that they don’t taste good. These carrots will be woody and very tough. The sugars will have left the carrot leaving it much less sweet than you might be used to. 

But this doesn’t mean your plants are a lost cause. The greens and the flowers are still completely edible. Just make sure to taste test your greens for any bitterness that may have developed. 

Carrot flowers are very delicious and can simply be eaten raw or tossed into your favorite salad. And contrary to what you may have heard elsewhere, carrot flowers are NOT poisonous. 

Conclusion

Don’t let harvesting carrots intimidate you. As long as you know what to look for, you’re sure to get it right. Keep an eye on the shoulders to make sure they’ve reached the correct size and don’t be afraid to dig one up now and then to check on their progress. 

I think the hardest part of growing carrots is having patience. Although they take some time to reach full maturity, they are well worth the wait. 

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