The bountiful crops: How to harvest garden vegetables

Gardens are in full production for most people now. Here are a few tips for harvesting the most popular garden vegetables.

Beans: Pick most varieties when the beans are 4 to 6 inches long. The smaller the bean inside the more tender the bean will be. Do not pick beans when they are wet. You will leave rust marks on the beans and plants. It also spreads disease.

Broccoli and Cauliflower: Harvest early in the morning when the sugars are high in the stems and florets. Make sure you pick the stalks before they flower or turn yellow. When the stems or flowers are yell they will be bitter.

Cabbage: I pick my cabbage in the morning. I find most crops suffer less form wilt and retain better flavor if picked early or on a cloudy day.

Corn: Wait for the silks to turn dark and start to shrivel. To check to se if they are ready peel back the leaves to expose a few kernels. When you bust a kernel with your fingernail, the kernel should be full of “milky” juice. You need to use the corn as soon as you pick it as the sugar in the corn starts to turn to starch and the vegetable looses its sweetness and taste.

Cucumbers: Harvest when small, firm, and dark green for the best flavor. If you are making pickles, harvest at 2 inches for sweets, 4-6 inches for dill pickles, and 6-8 inches for slicing. For the freshest pickles you need to pick the crop and make the pickles immediately. Pickles that are stored for several days make a soft pickle.

Eggplant: Harvest at an average size of 6-8 inches. Eggplants should be firm and glossy when they are ready for harvest. If they are dull they are old and will be hard and not as flavorable.

Onions: The tops will fall over and turn yellow or brown. Let the soil dry out and pull up the onions. Brush away any loose dirt and let them air dry in a cool dark place for 3 weeks before storing. I find that braiding the stems together and hanging them works well. It also has a festive look.

Potatoes: New potatoes can be harvested when the potato flowers begin to fade and the flowers are replaced with what looks like the beginning of a tomato. New potatoes should be cooked immediately or they will spoil.

When harvesting potatoes for storage wait until the vines die back and turn brown. Dig up all of the potatoes you can find and let the potatoes dry in a cool dry spot, protected from sunlight. This is important and potatoes that are exposed to sun will get a green skin and actually become somewhat toxic. Store for 2-8 weeks depending on the variety, in a cool and dry area.

Pumpkins: Wait for the fruit to mature into its full size and the pumpkin is firm and glossy. The vine will wither that leads to the pumpkin and this will also let you know its time to harvest the fruit. Cut away the vine leaving a 4-inch stem. Pumpkins without stems spoil quickly plus if they are being used for decoration they look better with the stem. Store in an area that is dry, cool and frost free.

Squash: I harvest summer squash when it’s young and tender (4-10 days after flowering). The smaller the fruit is the more tender and tasty will be. The seeds are tender too. If you let squash over-grow, they become bland and seedy.

Winter squash should be harvested after the vines begin to die back and turn brown. Remember to leave a 2-inch stem or the squash will rot.

Tomatoes: Harvest when the tomatoes are firm and have a full even color. Pick tomatoes often or the tomatoes will “crack and split” if they’re left on the vine. You can remove “pink” tomatoes and let them ripen on the windowsill or in a brown paper bag. Green tomatoes have a tart flavor and can be used for relishes, pickled or fried.

Peppers: Bell peppers can be picked and eaten anytime. Wait until they reach full size for the best flavor. You can pick them when they are green or leave them to ripen and change color on the vine (yellow, red, orange, or “chocolate”).

Hot peppers go from green to ripe quickly. Look for full and even color in the pepper and try to pick them before they split.

Pick peppers by cutting off the vine using a knife or a sharp pair of scissors. Leave some of the stem attached to each pepper so that they can be stored longer.

Hint: Most vegetables should be harvested by cutting them off the vines. When you pull or pick them it will often damage a plant.

Tags: harvesting vegetables, when vegetables are ripe, garden tips

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