How to Overwinter Garden Carrots Without Refrigeration or Sand Buckets
Every year, I grow between 200–400 carrots in my garden. Why so many carrots? Because my husband and I prefer to eat our own grown food as much as possible, for as long as possible, through the winter months. With this simple winterizing method, we get to enjoy fresh carrot soups, juices, and salads without having to buy grocery store carrots until April of the following spring.
How to Overwinter Your Carrots in the Ground
The magic ingredient to overwinter your carrots is straw! Be sure not to confuse hay for straw, because hay contains a lot of weed seeds that will make a mess in next year's garden! Straw is weed free and is what I use to mulch my carrots and beets for the winter season.
They remain perfectly preserved in the ground until temperatures begin to rise again in March. But don't go away yet, let me give you some tips so that you can successfully do the same thing and not have a fail experience.
What's the Ideal Temperature for Overwintering?
I would say the perfect soil temperature for storing carrots in the ground is between 35–42°F (1.6–5.5°C). This is the temperature the soil maintains consistently under the straw in my zone 4 growing area.
Those temperatures are essentially the same as in your refrigerator. Even though the ground is frozen solid everywhere else, under the straw the soil is not frozen, just very cold, and the carrots are able to be dug up quite nicely.
How Much Straw Is Needed?
You need to get the straw depth coverage just right. Not enough straw will result in the carrots freezing in the ground, while too much straw will result in the soil temperatures being too warm, which will trigger premature decomposing.
Since I live in a zone 4 growing area, my straw depths are based on that. For zone 4 growers like me, this is what I recommend:
- Cover the carrots with a straw depth of 6–8 inches. Push down the straw so that it's a firm pack and not light and airy.
If you want to know what growing zone number you are, check out this USDA Hardiness Zone Finder.
When to Cover the Carrots With Straw
I don't cover my carrots with the straw until night temperatures drop into the 20s and pretty much stay there. For my area in Montana, that's usually around Thanksgiving, whereas other areas it could be around Halloween—yet still zone 4. December through February, the night (and even day) temperatures will drop into the teens and then down to subzero numbers. Even with those deep freeze temperatures, the carrots are still harvestable.
Come March is when the temperatures will begin to rise and warm up the soil. This will trigger the top of the carrots to turn soft and mushy, in other words, decompose. The root that remains deep in the soil is the last to warm up and become mushy, because the root is farther down in the soil (where it's colder), therefore maintaining longer preservation. For me, even when the tops of the carrots start to go, I will still harvest the carrots and simply chop off the top and utilize the lower root, which is still good for juicing and cooking.
When the whole carrot is essentially a goner later in the spring, I simply leave them in the ground to decompose, becoming a soil nutritive. They easily get rototilled into the new spring garden soil prep process.
For Zone 3 and Zone 5 Growers
If you live in a colder growing area like zone 3, follow the same guidelines as given above, but with the straw depth being greater to really protect those carrots from the extreme cold of your area. You'll probably find you'll need to cover sooner as well, since your night temperatures will drop consistently below freezing before a zone 4 will.
If you live in a warmer growing area like zone 5, decrease the straw depth, since you don't want the soil to be too warm. You'll probably find you need to cover the carrots later than November, since your night temps will be consistently above freezing longer than a zone 3 or 4.
Note: The carrot top greens will die out once the straw is placed, so don't have any lofty visions of eating fresh carrot greens over the winter. The photo above is of me using a pair of clippers to cut off the stringy brown (once green) carrot tops. Typically, I will harvest 10–20 carrots every 1–2 weeks, since I have enough space in my fridge for that amount. In other words, I'm not out digging carrots every day, but do what you need to do according to your circumstances!
I hope this was helpful and you will be successfully harvesting your own carrots all winter long!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 CleanFoodLiving