When (and How) to Harvest Your Garden’s Vegetables

When (and How) to Harvest Your Garden’s Vegetables

Michael Jenkins

We’re moving into mid-summer, and across the continent vegetable gardens are starting to produce wonderfully delicious home-grown fruits. This is a special time of the year, but for some gardeners it can get a little confusion: when and how do you harvest all of these vegetables! Knowing when your veggies are ripe for harvest and how to gather them effectively is important for both your sanity and the health of your plants. Let’s learn a bit more about when and how to harvest your garden’s vegetables, and maybe a few other tips and tricks along the way.

NB: We’ll be focusing on spring and summer veggies for this blog. Fall and winter crops will be the subject of a future installment!

Asparagus: these are easy—when the spear is roughly between 4 and 6 inches/10-15cm long and about as big around as a pinky finger, it’s time to harvest. You can either snap the spears off at about ground level, or cut them with a sharp clean tool. Harvest for about a month, and then let the spears grow and blossom; this will help keep your plant healthy and reproducing every year.

Beans and Peas: Beans and peas are from different botanical families, but they’re similar in how and when to harvest. Wait until the the pod is full sized, but before you can see the seeds bulging from within—bulging seeds indicate that the pod has grown tough. Only wait that long if you’re harvesting beans to use as dry beans or for peas you intend to shell, rather than green beans. Pick them by pulling the short stem off of the main vine or branch of the plant, disturbing the rest of the plant as little as possible.

Carrots: Carrots can be a bit tricky—they grow below the ground, so it’s difficult to tell when exactly they’re ready to harvest! You do need to know the varietal of carrot you’ve planted and how big the mature roots get, but in general when you can see the top of the root above the soil and it look about the right size, your carrot is ready to pull.

Corn: Corn is easy—when the silks start to turn dry and brown, it’s time to start checking to see if the ear is ready to harvest. This generally happens 2-3 weeks after the silks appear. The way  to check is by  gently opening the ear of corn and nicking a kernel or two with your fingernail. If a milky substance oozes out, the corn is ready to harvest.

Cucumber: Cucumbers are the avocados summer garden plants—they turn from “perfect” to “overripe” seemingly in an instant. Most cucumbers are best when harvested young; the fruit should be firm and smooth. Overly hard and too small means the fruit isn’t ripe yet, while bitter, woody, or yellow means that the fruit is overripe and has gone to seed. Harvest frequently for best results.

Eggplant: Most eggplant are fairly easy to manage. When the fruit is full, shiny, and full-sized for that varietal, it’s almost certainly ready to go. Eggplants have particularly tough stems, so we recommend cutting them with a sharp clean tool rather than pulling them. The latter can damage your plants.

Melon: It’s generally easy to tell when most popular varieties of garden melons are ripe: the melon itself smells sweet, the color has changed from green to brown or yellow, and the fruit pulls off the vine easily. (Note that we’re talking about melons like cantaloupe and honeydew; we’ll talk about watermelons in a bit!)

Squash: Keeping up with most squash varietals can seem like a full-time job in the summer! These plants produce copiously and the fruits grow fast, so check them daily. Generally most squash are ready when the fruit is full sized but the skin is still easily pierced by a fingernail. As with cucumbers, check daily for best results and don’t be afraid to share with your neighbors!

Tomatoes: There’s so many myths and superstitions around tomatoes that we’ve devoted entire blogs to them, but thankfully harvesting is pretty easy: ripe tomatoes have achieved their mature color, which depending on varietal may be red, yellow, green, orange, or purple. When ripe they’ll be soft to the touch, and aromatic—you’ll notice a distinct tomato scent in the air. Tomatoes are best harvested by gently twisting them off the plant.

Watermelon: This is where all the arguments start. Everyone has a personal method for telling when a watermelon is ripe; you’ll find yours if you grow watermelons a few seasons in a row. The best general approach we know is to start by checking the white spot on the watermelon that forms where it rests on the ground; when that turns from white to a deep yellow, the watermelon is pretty close to ready. When it doubt: call your grandparents or ask an experienced gardener!

There’s a lot more to talk about—these are only a few summer veggies and there’s a lot more to talk about! We’ll be touching on the subject again in future blogs, so stay tuned. If you have any questions or if you have tips and tricks you’d like to share (we’re especially interested in hearing about watermelons!) please get in touch either via email or on social media. Gardzen is all about community and we love to hear from you!

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