How to Harvest Carrot Seeds

How to Harvest Carrot Seeds

Carrots have long been a staple of the North American and European diet – revered for its nutritional value and versatility as well as its ability to be stored for extended periods of time.  While most gardeners and farmers focus on cultivating carrots for their edible roots, the process of harvesting seeds from carrots is an equally vital, albeit less understood, aspect of carrot cultivation. I’ll be explaining the little know art of how to harvest carrots seeds in this article which will to create a sustainable seed source from your carrot crop while contributing to sustainable gardening practices.

Carrots, interestingly, are biennial plants which means that they have a two-year life cycle, contrary to the annual harvesting of their roots.   In the first year of a carrots life, they devote their energy to developing a robust, edible root, whereas the second year sees them flowering and producing seeds. Understanding this lifecycle a primary step for anyone looking to harvest carrot seeds, as it requires patience and a different set of cultivation skills compared to growing carrots for annual consumption.

Harvesting carrot seeds extends beyond mere cultivation. It’s a practice steeped in agricultural sustainability, allowing gardeners and homesteaders to maintain and propagate heirloom varieties, contribute to biodiversity, and reduce dependence on commercially available seeds which can be genetically modified. Furthermore, harvesting your own carrot seeds can be a rewarding experience fostering a closer connection to the cycle of growth and the natural world while furthering your independence of your homestead.

The first year of a carrot plant’s life will set the foundation for sustainable and successful seed production. This period focuses on the growth and development of the carrot root, which will sustain the plant in its second year when it turns its energy towards flowering and seed production.

Planting and Germination in Year One

Starting with your selected seeds – this crucial step requires that you not just pick the type of carrot you want to eat for food but also ensuring the quality of the seed.   You will want to use an heirloom seed for any crop you plan on performing sustainable seed harvesting with and I would also recommend doing you due diligence with the brand of seed you choose to go with.  By definition, heirloom seeds have been monitored through their generations to ensure that they are both organic and certified non GMO – after all there is no point in using a seed that is organic now, but in its lineage was a descendant of a genetically modified seed.

Once you have selected your seed, your carrots should be sown directly into the soil. During this seeding phase, be sure to space out the actual carrots you plan on using for seeds so they have ample room to grow.   If you are planning on planting more then one variety of carrots for seed harvesting – you will also want them to be further apart from each other so they do not cross pollinate in the second year when they flower.   Carrots seeds take 1-3 weeks to germinate and during this time, keeping the soil consistently moist is important for successful germination.

Because carrots are a rood vegetable, having soil that is rich in organic material and is loose allows for unimpeded root growth.  Carrots prefer a continual supply of moisture while not being overly saturated.   It is also a good idea to use a layer of mulch over the soil that will help retain soil moisture and regulate soil temperature.  As the carrots come up – you will want to thin them accordingly and pay a particular focus to the carrots that you are growing to be used for seeds.   These will stay in the ground over the winter where in the spring will focus on flowering an seed production and no longer on the growth of their root below the soil.    This means that in regions with cold winters, carrots intended for seed production must be protected as much as possible which involves a heavy layer of mulch in the fall.   Another option is to dig up the entire carrot and store them in a cool, moist place over the winter, then replant them in early spring.  You may want to try both methods to see which works better for you.

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Carrot Flowering and Carrot Seed Development in Year Two

As the carrot plants enter their second year, they shift their energy from root development to flowering and seed production.

Initiation of Carrot Flowering:

In the second year, as the days lengthen and temperatures rise, the overwintered carrot plants will begin to produce flowering stalks which is called bolting. These stalks will grow tall, and umbel-shaped flower clusters will form.  These carrot flowers are typically white or pale purple and are arranged in a unique pattern known as an umbel, where several flower stalks emerge from a common point. The primary umbel blooms first, followed by smaller, secondary umbels.  During this phase, let the flowers fully bloom so they can begin their natural pollination process.  Depending on your variety, these blooms can range from wild flower looking in appearance to magnificent blooms.    The popular flower Queen Anne’s Lace is a direct relative to the carrot but is inedible for humans.

When carrots flower in the second year of their life, the seeds begin to develop in their umbellets.

Carrots are predominantly pollinated by insects and in particular bees – but other pollinators will also help in the process.   Having bee attracting flowers near by any vegetable needing polination assistance is a good idea.    Ensuring a diversity of pollinators in your garden can enhance the pollination process.   Sunflowers, wild flowers, and most vibrant colored flowers attract bees – while also remembering that bees and their cousins have different length ” tongues ” so having flowers that are have different shaped and different lengths of pedals will make your growing area even more bee friendly.

Carrot Seed Development

After pollination, the flowers on the carrots gradually transform into seed clusters. Each tiny flower in the umbel has the potential to develop into a carrot seed.  During this period, it’s important to monitor the plants regularly, as seed development varies among umbels.  The carrot seeds are ready for harvest when they turn brown and start to dry out.    This typically occurs several weeks after flowering and you will need to closely monitor this period as if they dry out to long, they will fall off the plant. The primary umbel will mature first, followed by the secondary and tertiary umbels.  In the image below, the flowers have dried out and turned brown – it is this period where the seeds are either ready, or near ready to harvest.

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