You’ve dutifully watered, weeded, mulched, and protected your garden from hungry bugs all summer, and now you’re finally ready to enjoy the fruits (or veggies) of your labor. How do you know when your produce is ripe for the picking? Here are a few harvesting tips to help you pick plants when they are at their tastiest.
Tomatoes — Pick tomatoes when they are glossy and have a smooth, even color, and avoid picking them when it is hot out. Tomatoes should be fully ripe and starting to soften–slightly less than firm. Tomatoes ripen from the bottom, so you’ll notice softness there first. Be patient with them, since if you pick them early, they won’t be quite as flavorful! However, cherry tomatoes should be picked just before they fully ripen.
Carrots — You can tell when carrots are reaching maturity because an orange crown will poke out of the ground. They are ready to pick when the root is between ¾ and 1 ½ inches wide (although they are more tender and sweet if you eat them before then). Carrot tops can snap off if you tug them too hard, so loosen and clear away dirt before you pull them. Carrots can stay in the ground for a while, so it is best to leave them there if you aren’t ready to eat them yet.
Broccoli — You can tell broccoli is ready when the head is firm and between 4 to 7 inches across, and the florets around the edges are the size of a match-head. Once broccoli reaches that point, you have 3 to 4 days before the florets will begin to bloom into yellow flowers, so keep a close watch on them. Try and harvest them when it is cool out. With a very sharp knife cut the head off in one slice about 6 inches below the head (try not to saw as it damages the stem). Smaller heads will keep growing to the side of where the main head was, and you can tell when to harvest them by looking at the florets. If you continue to cut off the shoots, you will be able to harvest broccoli up to six weeks after your first harvest!
Summer Squash — The smaller you pick summer-grown squash like zucchini, the more tender they will be. As a general guideline, pick squash when they are about 6 to 8 inches long and no more then 2 inches wide–around 4 to 8 days after they flower. Don’t let them get too mature, as they will become rock hard and seedy. Pick them when their skin is still soft enough to scratch with your fingernail.
Cabbage — Harvest cabbage when the heads are around a good size and nice and firm.l. Keep an eye on them once they reach maturity, since the cabbage will continue taking in water, which will eventually force it to split open. If you notice a split head, harvest it immediately since the exposed inner leaves will rot if moisture gets in. When you harvest, cut close to the base of the head, leaving the loose leaves on the stem–buds will continue growing on the stump and between the leaves and stem. They will be smaller than the original head, but should also be picked when firm.
Green Peppers — These sweet bell peppers are ready to eat when firm, shiny, and about 4 inches across. Green peppers are delicious, but they can also be allowed to mature more and eventually ripen into even sweeter red, yellow, or purple peppers. It’s easy to damage the branches, so use a sharp knife or clippers, and cut the stem an inch or so above the plant. The plant will continue producing new peppers as you remove ripe ones, so pick away!