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Harvest Hints

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Harvest Hints

You’ve been slaving in your garden all summer, and now it’s time to enjoy the fruit of your labor (literally). But how do you know when your produce is ready to pick? Just consult our handy harvest guide!

Beets: Ready to be picked once they’ve reached 1 1/2”, but can be allowed to grow larger.

Broccoli: Harvest when the buds are still tight. If you allow yellow flowers to form, your broccoli may become woody. Continually cut back your plant to encourage side shoots throughout the growing season.

Cantaloupes: Ready to pick when the exterior is tan with a hard, netted skin pattern. A crack should forms near the stem allowing the fruit to be easily removed.

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Carrots: Pull your carrots once they’ve turned orange (or yellow, if you have a yellow variety) and grown to the desired size. It’s OK to move back some of the dirt to get a better look. Carrots can be picked once they’ve reached anywhere between 1/2” to 1 1/2” in diameter, depending on your preference and the length of your growing season. If your carrots break off in the ground, use a fork to loosen the soil around them.

Harvest the outer leaves of chard when the plants are sturdy and well established. Always leave a few leaves behind to encourage continual growth throughout the season.

Corn: Harvest after the silk at the top of the stalk begins to turn brown, but before it dries out. It’s OK to pull back the ear and have a look at the corn. The kernels should be plump and juicy.

Cucumbers: Harvest cucumbers when they have grown to a good size and the skin is firm and glossy. Don’t wait too long. Larger cucumbers can be bitter.

Pick eggplants when they have grown to size and are smooth and shiny.

Honeydew: Ripe when they have a slight yellow tinge to their light-colored rinds. Unlike cantaloupes, honeydews must be cut from the vines.

You can start picking the outer leaves of kale when the plants are sturdy and well established. Like chard, be sure to leave behind some young leaves to ensure ongoing harvests.

Leeks: Can be harvested as small as ½” thick for extra tenderness, or allowed to grow to larger than 1”. Just be sure to harvest before the flowering stalk forms or they’ll be too woody to eat.

Lettuce: Best harvested in the morning for maximum crispness. Can be harvested as individual leaves or whole heads. Harvest heads when they are firm in the center, but before they begin to send up a flowering stalk, or simply use scissors to cut off outer leaves throughout the growing season.

Pick young onions once they’ve reached 10”-12” tall to enjoy as scallions. Or, for mature onions, wait until the tops wither.

Peas: For maximum crispness, pick peas in the morning, and frequently. Shelling peas are ready to harvest as soon as the peas are round enough to fill the pod. Snap peas should be allowed to become round and full. Neither variety should be left on the vine too long, or they’ll become tough.

Can be harvested as soon as they’ve reached a good size. For maximum flavor, allow peppers to mature for as long as possible before harvesting. Depending on the length of your growing season, they may or may not have time to turn from green to red or orange.

Ready to harvest when the aboveground portion of the potato plant turns brown and dies back. Be sure to keep all spuds completely covered until you’re ready to harvest them to prevent sunburned skins. Dig into the soil with a spade fork, or just your hands, until you’re sure no more potatoes are left.

Pumpkins: Harvest once they’ve turned firm and deep orange. Cut from the stem with and knife, leaving a few inches as a handle. Allow them to cure outdoors in the sun, or in a sunny spot indoors if there is a threat of frost, for 10 days.

Spinach: Once the plant has grown to about 6”, cut off outer leaves, leaving a few behind to allow for continued growth.

String Beans:
Pick frequently for maximum flavor and quantity. Harvest when they are crisp but still slender. Try to get them before the seeds inside begin to swell, or they may become tough.

Tomatoes: For best flavor, pick tomatoes when they have reached their mature color, with no trace of green. If you are concerned about cracking, though, you can pick when they have just begun to change color, and allow them ripen indoors, on a sunny windowsill. Never store unripe tomatoes in the refrigerator.

Watermelons: Ready to harvest when the skin is firm and the leaves near the fruit start to wither. Ripe watermelons have a light patch on the bottom, where they touch the ground.

Winter Squash: Pick when rind is richly colored and firm. Cut from the stem with and knife, leaving a few inches as a handle. Allow them to cure outdoors in the sun, or in a sunny spot indoors if there is a threat of frost, for 10 days.

Zucchini: Pick at 6”-7” for maximum tenderness.

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1 Rose { 08.26.14 at 2:14 pm }

Yes, all root vegetables can be overwintered.

2 Jennie Riley { 09.27.13 at 7:38 am }

Good advice, but there are so many things not listed. I like to pick summer squash with the flower still attatched. Okra is a favorite in the south, but it isn’t on the list. I pick it early in the mornings when the pods are 3 to 4 inches long. A complete harvesting guide would be a great addition to the web site.

3 Shawn M. Weeks { 09.24.13 at 2:16 pm }

Great guide. Is it true that you can plant potatoes in the fall to harvest the following spring?

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