There's no mystery to harvesting carrots, although a lot of people pick them too early, or leave them in the field until they get woody because they're not sure when to harvest carrots.
© Steve Masley
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Carrots mature 60-70 days after sowing, as long as they're thinned properly and get plenty of water. The growth rate is slower in cooler temperatures, faster in the warmest summer months.
When the carrot tops are 4-6” (10-15cm) high, you can start harvesting “baby” carrots. This is around the time you'll want to thin them to their final spacing–about 3" (7cm)–so the remaining carrots can size up properly. The carrots should be 3-4” (7-10cm) long at this stage.
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After this final thinning, leave them in the ground for another 3-4 weeks. Give them plenty of water during the last month of growth.
Unless you know the variety, it's hard telling if the carrots are ready to harvest just by looking at the tops. Some carrots have very tall leaves, while others have leaves half as high at maturity.
The easiest way to tell if a carrot is ready to harvest is to use your index finger to circle the top of the carrot, to feel how big it is. Most carrots are ready to harvest when the tops are about 1" (2.5cm) in diameter, but Chantenay and Imperator carrots grow larger.
Once they've reached this diameter at the top, pull a couple carrots out of the ground to check their length.
Most carrot varieties can hold in the ground for a 2-3 weeks after maturity, without getting woody or fibrous. Some storage varieties can hold considerably longer, especially in cooler temperatures.In warm-winter areas where the ground doesn’t freeze solid, late-season carrots can be left in the ground and harvested as needed.
Where the ground freezes solid, dig carrots after the first snowfall, but before the ground freezes. The cold will make the carrots sweeter. Store in damp sand in a root cellar or basement.
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