When it comes to vegetable gardening, you can only learn so much by following the guidelines on seed packets. Some of the information on seed packets includes maturity time and how to harvest vegetables. These guides are essential for new gardeners; however, this information is not entirely accurate for every vegetable garden.
There are various factors to consider regarding the timeframe it takes for vegetables to reach maturity. Plants like okra and green beans thrive in hot weather, and if the spring season and its cooler weather drag into summer, this may affect the growth of warm-season veggies.
Because environmental factors and the condition of your garden affect vegetable harvest times, to harvest the perfect crop, it’s essential to be able to rely on more than a maturity estimate to harvest at the ideal time.
When to Harvest Vegetables
A good starting point for vegetable gardening is to reference the projected number of days until harvest. To harvest vegetables with the best flavor, whether you have them in an easy indoor veggie garden or outside, take note of the size of your vegetables and the color of the fruit or leaves to determine if it’s time to harvest or not.
For example, when growing muskmelons like cantaloupe, honeydew, and even watermelon, determining ripeness requires observing the husk for the right color and firmness. These fruits are similar to winter squash like pumpkin, where the appearance of the rind is often the best way to tell if your vegetables are ready for harvest.
Knowing When to Pick Vegetables
Vegetable gardening is fascinating because there is no uniform guide for harvesting. Some harvested vegetables taste best before they reach their full size, like summer squash, zucchini, and peas.
To quickly tell whether your squash is ready for harvest, press your fingernail to the rind. If the rind is soft and you easily pierce it, your squash is immature and needs more time on the vine. On the other hand, to get ripe tomatoes, leave red and green tomatoes on their vines to reach maturity before you harvest them.
Knowing when to harvest vegetables involves knowing if you should let your plant grow and when to pick the fruits off. Peas and beans are two types of crops whose texture and taste change if they are left on the line too long.
When growing Brussels sprouts, early harvesting allows your plant to continue growing and produce more bulbs without harvesting the entire plant.
Crops like basil, hot peppers, and leaf lettuce, are all plants that produce more once you harvest them. This habit is beneficial because it allows gardeners to pull off the outer leaves of lettuce or harvest kale to cook with and sends signals to the plant to continue growing for another harvest.
Harvesting leafy crops involve measuring the size of the leaves. Harvest lettuce and basil when leaves are around six inches. Harvest other leafy plants like collards before the leaves reach ten inches and the leaves are a dark green color. Harvest Swiss chard when the plant grows around nine inches tall to allow a new leaf to grow in its place.
How to Harvest Vegetables
Deciding when to pick vegetables is part of the job going from farm to table. The other part of the process involves using the right tools to harvest vegetables and knowing the right time to start harvesting veggies.
Because plants like turnips, kohlrabi, and rutabagas grow under the ground, it is a little harder to know when to pick them. Some plants that grow underground emerge from the soil as they reach full size; others are only visible by their green leaves.
It’s time to harvest plants like parsnips when the leaves dry out and begin to die back. Wait to pick potatoes and other tubers until their leaves completely dry.
Determine when to pick vegetables like a rutabaga and radishes based on their color and size. Rutabagas typically protrude from the soil once they reach full size and are two inches in diameter. For radishes that aren’t visible out of the ground, as well as for carrots harvest time, brush away the top layer of soil to reveal their roots which should be around one inch in diameter.
Some crops like peas, lettuce, and spinach are easily snapped off and brought inside, but for other plants like tomatoes, cauliflower, and cabbage, you may want to use a sharp knife to separate the vegetable from its base or vine.
When harvesting vegetables that grow flower heads, like broccoli, pick while it is still bright green and before the plant begins yellowing and flower buds appear. Harvest cauliflower when the curds are around eight inches in diameter or ten days after you allow the plant to blanch.
Vegetable Harvest Times and Storing Vegetables
Along with your crop’s maturity and using the right tools, the day and even the time you decide to harvest is crucial for your plants to hold well after harvest, whether you are harvesting celery or tomatoes. Your vegetable is freshest on the vine, and the quality declines from there.
When you’re ready to harvest your vegetables, start early in the day once the morning dew dries on your plants, as your yields are the juiciest.
If you’re harvesting leafy vegetables, avoid harvesting later in the day when the sun is highest, as this causes them to wilt. Also, avoid harvesting plants during rainy weather because fungus spreads easily from water splashes with an infected plant.
When harvesting your crops, thoroughly inspect the fruits to avoid bringing any damaged or infected crops inside. Blossom end rot is one common disorder to look out for in plants that lack calcium. This calcium deficiency results in the bottom of the fruit, the end opposite the stem, rotting and becoming inedible.
To transition from harvesting to taking your crops inside, bring all the supplies you might need. Standard gardening supplies for harvesting include gloves, shears, a sharp knife for cutting plants from their roots, and something to carry your yield indoors.
How you store and keep vegetables depends on the type of plant. Your vegetable’s storage requirement also determines how long you can keep them in your home before they begin to rot.
After harvesting onions, potatoes, and winter squash like pumpkins, leave them out in a dry place to cure. Herbs like basil are best when left out at room temperature with their stems in water as they wilt if left in the refrigerator.
Crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers require cool and moist storage, which is challenging to manage in the house. Most refrigerators remain too cold to accommodate these crops and are too dry.
Most home growers leave this produce out at room temperature until they are ready to cook. Because they do not have a long shelf life, plan your meals ahead of time to ensure your use these crops before they go bad.
Chop the tomatoes, onion, and peppers before placing them in a food processor. Pulse the ingredients enough to dice them into small pieces. Add cilantro and the juice from one lime before pulsing again—season with cumin or oregano before adding to a serving bowl.
The effort you put in to grow and care for your vegetable garden all leads to the moment of harvest. Carefully monitor your crops to ensure you pick them at the right time so that only the best tasting vegetables make it to the kitchen table.
If you learned how to harvest vegetables from our guide, please share these tips on when to harvest vegetables with your gardening friends on Facebook and Pinterest.