The first year I had a successful carrot crop, I was so excited. So I dug them all up, cleaned them off, and put them in the refrigerator only to find that 2 days later, they were soft and limp.
So why do carrots from the garden get soft while my grocery store carrots don’t? Garden variety carrots get soft when they lose internal moisture or if they start to rot. As cleaned carrots slowly dry out, their cells actually get less rigid making them soft and really unappetizing.
But depending on how soft they are there may be a solution. And there are definitely some things you can do to keep them fresh longer, even through the winter.
Why Garden Carrots Go Soft and Grocery Store Carrots Don’t
Okay, so what’s the deal? I get fresh, organic carrots straight from my garden and they get all rotten looking in a week, but those ones at the store seem to last forever!
The main reason that happens, is that you didn’t plan the same variety of carrots that the grocery store suppliers did.
This can be said about pretty much all produce. The stuff they sell at the store has been bred over countless generations to have a long shelf life. Not to taste the best. The carrots you grow are almost certainly better tasting and may be better in other ways. But they’re not bred to last forever on a shelf.
To make the carrots last as long as possible, the people that pack the carrots you buy from the store are keeping the carrots really cool. They wash them in cold water, dry them with cool air, and store them in a cold place.
Temperature won’t guarantee freshness, though, since storing your carrots in a refrigerator won’t prevent them from going soft. I’ve tried. But cool storage does help.
Freshening Carrots That Went Soft
If you have carrots that have already gone soft, there’s really only one thing you can try.
Place the carrots in a bowl of cool water. The carrots will absorb some of the water and that may bring some crispness back to your carrots. But depending on how soft your carrots have gotten, it may be too late for that. If so, there’s one more thing you can do…
Using Carrots that have Gone Soft
If your carrots aren’t totally repulsive, you can still use them.
Carrots that are a little soft work great in any recipe that uses cooked carrots.
Fresh carrots are really crisp, and in recipes with cooked carrots, they can be difficult to soften enough. I often end up with crunchy carrots mixed in with lots of other soft, cooked vegetables.
That’s where soft carrots can be really great!
If you’re not making a cooked dish that requires carrots, why not try a side of Super Simple Spicy Grilled Carrots? It’s an extremely simple recipe a neighbor shared with me a few years ago that we make all the time because it’s so easy and so good!
Remember, just because a carrot has gone soft, doesn’t mean it’s not usable!
So just wash them, peel them, and use them in your favorite recipe that uses cooked carrots.
Keeping Garden Carrots Fresh All Winter
The very best way to keep your garden-grown carrots fresh all year is actually to not harvest them until you’re ready to use them.
It’s true that they’ll be harder to dig up if the ground freezes solid, but they’ll stay fresh as long as they’re in the ground. That said, make sure to use them up before spring. Once the ground warms up again, your carrots will start growing again and if they get too big they can split or turn tough and bitter.
Another problem with keeping them in the ground is that animals like moles (and yes, even those rascally rabbits) may harvest them for you. So if you want them to remain ground fresh, but don’t want to leave them out for other animals to devour, you may want to consider a hybrid option.
This works great if you have a cool, dark place (like a root cellar) to store food. After digging up your carrots…
- Don’t wash them!
- Place some damp sand, dirt, or sawdust in the bottom of a container
- Place the carrots on top of the sand, dirt, or sawdust
- Cover the carrots with more sand, dirt, or sawdust
- Place the container in a cool, dark place and store them there until you’re ready to use them.
Making Garden Carrots Last After Harvesting
Let’s say you don’t have a dark, cold place to store harvested carrots, but you don’t want to leave them in the ground. That’s fine, but they won’t last forever and won’t even last as long as most grocery store carrots. But let’s get them to last as long as possible.
So here’s what you do to keep them fresh as long as you can.
- Pull the carrots right out of the ground. If your soil is dense, you may need to use a small garden shovel or fork. Dig next to the carrots so you can pull them out easily without scraping them up.
- Cut the greens off the tops of the carrots without cutting the carrot itself. We talked about softness being caused by the carrots losing internal moisture. Cutting off the greens will go a long way toward keeping that moisture in the carrots.
- Brush off the dirt, but don’t wash the carrots. You want to keep the skin fully intact to protect the carrots.
- Dry off the carrots using a towel or paper towel. Set them out to dry in a cool place for a few hours to remove any surface moisture.
- Store the carrots in a cool place (like the refrigerator) in a perforated bag away from fruits.
If you’re not going to use the carrots for a while and have the space, you may also consider freezing them. Whenever I freeze vegetables, I like to clean them, peel them, and even cut them up so they’re ready to use straight from frozen.
If you’re going to use these carrots in any cooked recipe, freezing them is probably the best way to preserve freshness as long as possible.