When (or if) to harvest carrots
week, I mentioned carrots on my soon-to-harvest list, and a couple of you rightly
pointed out that you don't have to harvest carrots before the
frost. In fact, carrots get sweeter if you wait to dig them until
cold weather has moved in, and some people even leave their carrots in
the ground over the winter. However, there are some reasons you
might choose to harvest your carrots early.
If you get a heavy layer
of snow that stays put all winter long, you're in the perfect spot for
overwintering carrots. Counterintuitively, the snow protects the
ground so it doesn't freeze and the garden row acts just like a good
root cellar. Those of us who garden further south, though,
experience ground freezes and thaws throughout the winter months, and
each freeze-thaw cycle pushes the carrots a bit further out of the
ground. The tops quickly freeze and then rot, so you can't count
on carrots overwintering in our area.
You can get around this
issue by mulching
the carrots heavily in the fall. However, if your
ground doesn't freeze, varmints are very likely to move into that soft,
warm bed and nibble on your roots all winter long. Which brings
me to one of the reasons I'm harvesting my carrots early this year: a
vole found the tasty carrots in one bed and started gnawing off the
bottoms, so I decided to get those roots before they're all eaten up.
The other reason I'm
harvesting now has to do with maturity of the carrots. In order
to overwinter carrots in the garden, you need to plant them at just the
right time so they're fully mature just as the ground gets too cold for
them to grow any further. This is very tricky since you never
know if autumn will be cold and dark or warm and sunny, so I tend to
just plant early (at the beginning of July) to ensure I get in a good
The downside of early
planting, though, is that good weather may mean your carrots head past
mature and into overmature before cold weather halts the plants'
growth. You can't really count on the days to harvest listed on
the seed packet to get this maturity data since shorter days slow carrots
down, but if you pull
out small carrots throughout their time in the ground to eat and thin
the bed, you'll
clearly see when the roots stop bulking up and start heading over the
hill by splitting or rotting.
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