This week, I harvested the best carrot I have ever grown in my allotmenteerist life. I was dead chuffed.
My carrots have never really been much to write home about. They’ve been reasonable and plenty, but certainly not anything to trouble the local village shows. However, this 222g, 21cm long corker is streets ahead of any carrot I’ve ever grown before.
I’m not sure if the shift from tough Essex clay to crumbly Somerset loam has made the difference, but I’ve had a few impressive specimens amongst the short row of maincrop I sowed this year.
So anyway, now I’ve temporarily turned Real Men Sow from the cheery allotment blog to the smug allotment blog, I’ll get on with the real post matter in hand: harvesting those carrotting maincroppers.
Maincrop carrots are ready for pulling up about 12-16 weeks after sowing. If you have a good rummage around your carrots, you’ll see the top of the carrots poking out of the soil. That’s normally the first sign that a carrot is ready to harvest.
Prizing Carrots Out of the Ground
A good idea is to monitor the carrots regularly, and harvest when they’re ready to eat as the bigger a carrot gets, the more flavour it loses (so my massive 2017 vintage could actually be overgrown and tasteless ha).
Use a trowel or fork to gently dig around the carrot so that you don’t damage the root.
Don’t be tempted to yank the carrot out from the top as this can snap the root. Instead, steadily wobble the carrot until the soil loosens, and then dig some more if necessary. If the root does break, it doesn’t mean you can’t salvage the carrot.
There isn’t much more of a disappointing harvesting feeling than stumpy carrots. The top of the carrot looks perfect in the soil, and excitedly you release the root, only to find nothing but a nubbin.
This can mean your carrots were sown too close together and required some thinning as seedlings, but more than likely the problem is due to stony soil.
Too many stones in your soil can also cause bent, split or downright obscene carrots as the roots grow around the obstacles, but it is important to remember that this is just a case of ugly veg and not something that prevents the carrot from being eaten or affects the flavour. Misshapen carrots are trickier to wash, not as big as you’d expect but fine to eat and especially useful for soups.
Avoiding Stoned Carrots
Avoiding stoned carrots is a painstaking job, involving working other materials into your soil and picking out stones as you come across them. A quicker, cheaty way to do it is to grow your carrots in containers.
Short-rooted varieties such as Parmex work really well in florist buckets, but bigger ones such as Early Nantes will do okay too. Fill the buckets with a mix of multipurpose compost and soil from your beds, and remember to water regularly as containers dry out faster than open soil.
Store or Leave in the Ground?
Traditionally, carrots have been stored in layers of moist sand in boxes, in dark places such as the shed, but with modern appliances available, sticking them in the fridge or freezer is much easier and convenient. Unwashed carrots will last a good couple of months in the veg tray of a fridge, whilst blanched carrots, sliced and sealed in freezer bags, will be fine to eat until the following Spring.
If you live in a reasonably mild part of the country or winter has been kind you don’t actually need to lift your carrots. I tend to leave most of my carrots in the ground over winter and harvest the roots as I need them. If you can get away with it, the carrots will stay much fresher like this and prevents worry over a deteriorating box full in a shed.
You need to watch for full scale freezing or snow, but damage can be warded off by resting a layer of horticultural fleece over your carrots. They won’t grow during the winter, but if you’ve grown a bumper crop, you can keep popping back for a harvest as and when you need.