Carrots can be grown quite densely compared to a lot of other crops. They’re not only good for fresh eating, but they store particularly well for use in the fall and winter — and beyond in some cases. With a little guidance the home gardener can easily learn how to store carrots in the ground, in cold storage, in the refrigerator, and in the freezer. Carrots can even be canned, pickled, and dried for really long term storage.
Of primary importance is preserving moisture in the root, and preventing its loss. For cold storage (in the ground, root cellar, fridge, or freezer), thick cored carrots are the better choice. That’s as opposed to baby carrots or coreless types.
One of the tastiest carrots for fall harvest is Napoli Organic F1, which become naturally sweeter after the first frost. If you garden in a region with mild winters, or where deep snow is not typical, Napoli can be left in the ground for harvesting as needed into the winter. Yellowstone Organic is another that works well for fall harvest and makes one of the nicest roasted winter vegetables. Plus it’s open pollinated. Bolero F1 is another good fall and winter harvest variety, but it is even better for long term storage in the cellar or refrigerator.
Storing Carrots in the Refrigerator
Remember that the key is to minimize moisture loss while keeping the roots cool and dry. Remove the tops (leaves and stems) right away upon harvest — or as soon as you get them home from the market. The leaves act to draw moisture into their tissues, so get rid of them. It is also recommended, if possible, to not clean freshly harvested carrots. Rather, let the skins of the carrots dry and firm up slightly in an airy location. Seal the roots in zip top bags and store in the vegetable crisper, or higher up, where cold air is circulated. Wash them (and peel, if you like) just before use. Using this method will keep almost any carrot variety fresh and crisp, with minimal nutrient loss, for 10 days or longer.
For longer storage, choose Bolero F1. Repeat the stages above by removing the greens and allowing the roots to air dry completely. Washing is not required, and might add unnecessary moisture to the scene. Line a vegetable crisper with several layers of paper towel (kitchen paper) and place the carrots on top. Check the paper once or twice a week for any moisture build-up. It can be replaced or allowed to dry and then recycled back under the carrots. Again, wash the carrots just before using them. Kept cool and dry like this, carrots should stay fresh for three months or longer.
Storing Carrots in the Freezer
Most vegetables contain enzymes that act to deteriorate the colour, texture, and nutrient value starting fairly soon after harvest. These enzymes are slowed by refrigeration, but they can also be killed outright by blanching. This process exposes the vegetables to high temperatures, usually in steam or boiling water, for a short time before cooling and prepping for the freezer.
To freeze baby or whole small carrots, or larger carrots cut into similar sized chunks, immerse them in boiling water. Aim for approximately one gallon of boiling water per pound of prepared carrots. Once the water returns to the boil, wait five minutes, and then remove the pieces with a strainer or slotted spoon and move them to a bath of ice water to bring down their temperature quickly. This will stop the cooking process, and improve their texture. Give them a stir in the cold water bath.
For diced carrots, or matchstick slices, only two minutes of blanching time is needed, but otherwise repeat as above.
When completely cooled, drain them and allow them to dry more thoroughly on clean kitchen towels. Once dried, they can be either tray-packed or dry-packed. Tray-packing works better for larger chunks and whole carrots, while dry-packing works better for diced or sliced carrots. To tray-pack, lay the blanched, dried pieces out on a clean baking sheet and place in the freezer until the pieces are well frozen. Then move them into a tightly sealed zip top freezer storage bag, and remove as much air as possible before returning to the freezer. To dry-pack, simply skip the tray step, again removing as much air as possible before sealing. It’s good practice to write the date and contents on your freezer bags.
Following the steps of careful preparation, blanching at the precise timing, and preparing for the freezer, carrots should remain in good shape for eight to twelve months.
Storing Carrots in a Root Cellar
Lots of root crops, along with many other fruits and vegetables, will store well for months in root cellar (or cold cellar) environment. Cellaring, as it is known, is an age-old technology for keeping the harvest fresh and edible through the winter. The cellar provides the perfect combination of high humidity and low temperature for crops to last almost in a state of suspended animation, with very little spoilage.
Few homes these days are designed with root cellars, but if the conditions can be approximated in a garage or shed, or in a covered hole in the back yard, it makes the perfect no-energy cold storage. For carrots (along with beets, parsnips, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and turnips), aim for a relative humidity range of 90% to 95%, and a temperature range of 0.5 – 4.5°C (33 – 40 °F).
Storing Carrots in Sand
If that temperature range can be maintained more or less steadily in a garage or other protected area, it’s worth trying to keep carrots (as well as beets and other root crops) layered in boxes full of sand. Place two inches of sand at the floor of a wooden crate or box, and lay carrots in a single level, not too crowded, and then add another one inch of sand. Repeat this process until the box is full or all the carrots are tucked away. A little water added to the top of the sand will maintain moisture in the sand without adding humidity to the surrounding area.
Important: When prepping vegetables for root cellar or sand layer storage, keep them in nearly the condition they were in at harvest time. Trim off the leaves, but keep all other roots and soil intact, minus any really big clumps of soil. A coating of soil acts as a barrier to the elements, and will help preserve the crop in storage.