When to Harvest
Harvest carrots any time if they are bigger than one bite if you wish, although they are most flavorful at maturity. Picking traditional sized carrots early really defeats the purpose if taste is your objective. For baby carrots with flavor, select special varieties that mature and stay small, such as ‘Thumbelina’. Fall carrots always taste better than summer carrots because they contain more sugar.
To judge when carrots are mature, look for dark green foliage, bright orange flesh, and a root that is about the size predicted on the seed packet and/or is about 1/2 inch across at its top. Pick those carrots with the largest roots first, so the rest have more room to grow. If you leave them in the ground too long, they’ll get too big and woody and lose their flavor. Generally, mature carrots will maintain their sweetness and nutritional value for about 4 or 5 weeks. To prevent them breaking when you pull them from the ground, use a tined garden fork to lift them out of the soil.
Storing Fresh Carrots
Carrots will keep in the refrigerator washed, with the tops cut off for 2 to 4 weeks. They stay crisp longer if stored in a plastic bag. If the carrots get a bit limp, they can usually be restored to some crispness by soaking them in cold water for about 30 minutes. In the fall when frost arrives, use the garden as a refrigerator. The last crop can stay in the soil under a winter mulch of 10 or 12 inches of leaves or bales of hay. Cut off the tops before you put out the thick mulch. Harvest them, a few at a time, as long as the ground doesn’t freeze hard.
Store carrots in a root cellar or unheated attic for up to 4 months. Pack them in straw or moist sand and put them in a cool, dark, humid place. Do not let them touch each other. There is no need to wash them. Don’t store them near apples, because the fruits give off ethylene gas that causes carrots to become bitter. Generally, carrots shouldn’t be stored any longer than 100 days. Then they start losing their beta-carotene. Carrots may also be dried, canned, or frozen for use in stews and as a cooked vegetable.