How to harvest carrot seeds now to plant in the spring

harvested carrots lying in garden

If you’ve ever wondered where carrot seeds come from, especially if you want to produce your own, you’ll first have to understand a bit about the carrot’s life cycle. Most veggies, like beans, corn, tomatoes, squash, and lettuce, are annuals. An annual completes its life cycle, growing from seed to producing seed, in a single growing season. But carrots, along with parsnips and beets, are biennials. A biennial is a plant that requires two growing seasons to complete its life cycle. 

Plant and cultivate

In order to save carrot seeds, sow open pollinated seeds rather than hybrid seeds. Open pollinated plants are pollinated by insects and wind. They produce offspring with the same characteristics as the parent plants. Hybrid plants are pollinated by artificial means. They do not produce offspring similar to the parent plants, and in fact may be incapable of producing viable seeds at all. 

Carrots are the same botanical species as the common field weed Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota. In order to keep the open pollinated crop true to its expected type, be sure to isolate it by at least one-quarter mile from Queen Anne’s Lace and other carrots.

Sow the seeds in cool weather, between early spring and late summer. After the seeds germinate, the young plants spend their first season growing a deep taproot and lush foliage. At the end of the season, the top dies back but the root stays alive. 

The following spring, new foliage quickly emerges. Soon after, by early summer, a flower stalk develops that produces many flat-topped clusters of tiny flowers. Pollinators of all kinds are attracted to the lacy white flowers. The plant uses energy stored in the root to produce seeds on the pollinated flower heads. By late summer seeds begin to ripen and turn brown. At this point it is time to begin harvesting the carrot seeds.

carrot flowers in a garden

Harvest and cure

Carrots flower and produce seeds over an extended timeframe. If you’re not sure what carrot seeds look like, pay close attention to the very tips of the flower stems. As the umbel is fertilized, the base of each tiny flower begins to swell. Usually the outer seeds begin to mature earlier than those closest to the center.

Harvest entire umbels after they have begun to turn brown and the seeds are visibly brown and fully formed. Use garden snips or scissors to carefully cut each one off at its base. Place them in a paper bag, or lay them on a breathable fabric surface to finish drying. Continue harvesting individual umbels over time, as they ripen. 

When the umbels have completely dried and become brittle, it’s time to thresh them, or separate the seed from the chaff before storage. For a small amount of seed, this can be done by simply rubbing the dried umbels in hand, or by laying them on a tarp on soft ground and walking on them. 

Thresh and store

Remove the chaff, or debris, from the seeds by screening and winnowing. Filter the entire batch through coarse mesh (¼ inch to ⅛ inch) to remove sticks and large debris. Remove finer debris by tossing or dropping the screened harvest in front of a gentle fan. The heavier seeds drop straight down, but the debris is blown away.

Store carrot seeds in a cool dry location. Seeds kept between 40 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit at 40 percent relative humidity will remain viable for up to four years. They store well in zipper bags, glass jars, metal tins, or the small envelopes that are used for floral arrangement cards. Label them with the harvest date and cultivar.

Improve crop quality

One of the benefits of saving seeds is the ability to improve the crop’s performance in your garden. Rather than simply saving seeds from every carrot, choose only those that exhibit the best characteristics. Carrots are notoriously slow to germinate. You could improve the average germination time by marking those that sprout fastest to reserve for seed saving, and harvest all others in the first year. Select for root color or quality at harvest time by reserving and replanting those with the best overall appearance.

Each carrot is able to produce up to 1,000 seeds or more. It takes very little space and almost no extra time to enjoy growing your own carrot seeds.

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