A number of practices should be followed in harvesting, handling, and storing of carrots, some more closely than others for best results.
Many carrot varieties can be stored, but some store better than others. It is most prudent to select varieties that are recommended for storage, or varieties that you or others have noted to store successfully. And even though some varieties may store well enough, this does not always mean that their flavor will hold.
Our Storage Carrot Varieties are selected on the basis of numerous criteria, but chiefly because:
- They are reliable, in terms of consistent performance from year to year.
- Their flavor quality is good going into storage, and improves, or is at least maintained, during storage. While some varieties' flavor does improve during storage, it will inevitably decline after peak flavor is achieved.
Carrots can be stored for several months, providing the stored roots are mature and in good shape (with minimal damage), and proper temperature and humidity are maintained. Temperatures in the range of 32–38°F/0–3°C are ideal, with a relative humidity of 98%.
Carrots intended for storage should be harvested when mature, after a few light frosts but before hard frosts, when they can still be easily dug. Harvesting on a cooler day in fall is better than on a warm day, to avoid over-warming the roots in the sun.
Be sure to pull a few samples from your carrot bed before assuming they're ready, as days to maturity can vary under different growing conditions. Check to see if the carrot tips are full and whether flavor is as fully developed as possible.
Once roots are harvested, the tops should be removed. Cut the tops off at about ¼–½" above the root shoulders. Once the tops are removed the carrots can either be stored with any soil still clinging to them, or washed and allowed to briefly air dry before storing.
Scores of articles have been written that cover the various methods of handling carrots and how to store them. Some suggest washing roots before storage, some suggest not washing the roots. Other articles discuss methods, such as storing roots in bins of damp sand, sawdust, or leaves, while others indicate a damp storage medium isn't necessary.
One of the more common methods of storing carrots for commercial growers is to store them in large bins or crates that are lined with plastic sheets. The crates should be lined so that air circulation can take place. Air should be able to enter from the base of the crate and then exit in a passive fashion through the top. This method helps maintain the ideal humidity of 98% while also ensuring proper ventilation to reduce risk of mold and rot.
To create a simple, small-scale storage system, loosely place the roots in food-grade, 5-gallon buckets. A few holes, roughly ⅜" or so in diameter, drilled through the bottom, sides, and lid of the bucket will allow for proper ventilation while maintaining the proper humidity levels.
Most commercial growers wash their carrots before storage; roots can be stored either washed or unwashed, however. Each has its advantages and drawbacks. We encourage you to keep records of your storage methods and conditions, as there may be differences from year to year and between varieties.
Washing Before Storage
- When it's time to remove carrots from storage for winter markets, they will have already been cleaned, so they will require no extra time to prepare.
- Washing reduces the possibility of root staining.
- If your wash station is unheated, washing will be much more pleasant in the fall than in the depths of winter.
- Extra handling of roots prior to storage can cause damage, which can lead to other problems during long-term storage.
- Cleaning takes up time and attention at a time of year when other crops need your time and attention.
- Before they can go into storage, washed carrots must be allowed to air-dry.
Washing After Storage
- Handling doesn't take place until a few days or so before market. This reduces the timespan between possible damage and consumption, thereby minimizing extent of damage.
- Other crops are not being neglected in the field while the carrots are being washed. Roots do not require air-drying time, since they are not washed/wet before storage.
- Leaving the carrots unwashed while in storage allows beneficial bacteria that compete with detrimental bacteria, to remain intact on the root surface.
- Roots must then be washed in the middle of the winter. (This is not a problem if your washing station has supplemental heating.)
- Roots may be stained by the soil while kept in storage.
Carrot harvesting, post-harvest handling, and storage practices vary widely at the regional, grower, and carrot variety levels. Provided you take care to minimize damage while harvesting, preparing for storage, and during storage, and the stored carrots remain within the bounds of optimal temperature and humidity requirements, there is some flexibility to the specifics of these practices. So keep these tips in mind as you go about determining what works best for you.