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When and How to Harvest Your Garden Vegetables

Harvesting and enjoying your abundant crop of vegetables is likely the primary reason that you began your growing endeavors. But, how do you know when and how to harvest your garden vegetables so that you can enjoy and share your yield? It can be a challenge navigating what to look for to ensure their individual ripeness or just how to bring these vitamin-rich foods from farm to table. Check out our guide for tips and tricks for picking veggies from your garden at just the right time.

Freshly harvested green, yellow and purple beans from a garden

Beans

Harvesting beans varies with the type of bean that you are growing and the purpose you have for it after harvest. Shelling beans and snap beans can both be harvested when they are young, tender, and before you seed the bumps of seeds establishing themselves in the pod. These beans can be eaten fresh off of the plant or cooked up in the kitchen. Both types of beans can also be harvested dry. This means that they can be allowed to stay on the bush or vine until they are thoroughly dried out. They can then be stored and used later for cooking.

Beets

Beets can be harvested within 45 days after planting seeds in many cases. Traditionally, beets are tastier when harvested early when they are small to medium in size, so you won’t want to extend the harvest time too far out. The leaves can be used as well as the beet and can be eaten fresh or cooked. Snip leaves sparingly when they are about 5 inches tall. Harvest beets by holding them at the base of the leafy stems and pulling them upward or digging them gently with a trowel.

Broccoli

Pick broccoli in the coolness of the morning to yield its best flavor and most extended shelf life. Broccoli should be harvested when its flower heads are dark green and before any yellowing occurs. Cut the broccoli head six inches below the flower head. The broccoli head should be firm and green in color.

Brussels Sprouts

Harvest brussels sprout buds when they boast a diameter of about one inch. You will be harvesting the bud of the plant, so cut them from the stalk’s bottom. Some say that brussels sprouts improve in flavor after a frost.

Carrots

Follow the guidelines on your seed packets for the approximate time to harvest your tender, sweet carrots. Different varieties of carrots can take different amounts of time to harvest, but you can look for the shoulders of carrots to emerge slightly from the soil. You can judge the size of the carrot by its shoulder and harvest them when they are about 1 inch in diameter, and the leaves are green and crisp. Loosen the soil around the carrots and pull them straight up out of the ground from their leafy stems. Your carrots should be full of vibrant color, be nice and firm to the touch, and have a smooth but somewhat ridged skin.

Looking down the leaves of a cauliflower plant.

Cauliflower

When it comes to harvesting cauliflower, it is much like harvesting that of broccoli. Pick in the coolness of the morning to yield its best flavor and most extended shelf life. Cauliflower should be harvested when its flower heads are white or purple, depending on the variety and before any yellowing occurs. Cut the head six inches below the flowerhead.

Corn

Harvest, when its silky tassels start to turn brown and cobs, look full and plump. Pull back the husk slightly and press your fingernail into a kernel of corn to be sure. If a milky white juice emerges from the kernel, then the corn is prime for picking. Pull corn ears to face downward and then twist the ear at the base to remove from the stalk. Corn doesn’t retain its peak flavor after it is harvested, so it is best to use the corn as promptly as possible after picking. If that is not possible, store in the refrigerator and eat as soon as possible.

Cucumbers

Harvest cucumbers when they attain at least six or seven inches in length. Keep a lookout for dark green skins and firm fruits. It is best to harvest these beauties on the earlier side to reap the rewards of their sweet flesh and tender seeds. They will grow bigger and can still be utilized with later harvests. However, seeds will be prevalent and pronounced, and the cucumber may have a more bitter taste than its younger counterpart.

Garlic

Garlic, like onions, are ready for harvest when the leaves start to fade and turn yellow and dry. However, when you surmise that it is time to harvest garlic, it is best to dig up a few bulbs and check to see if the cloves are firm and filled in and encased in their closed skin. Use a pitchfork to loosen the soil and lift garlic bulbs out of the ground.

Kale

The best time to harvest kale is when its leaves are five to seven inches long. Young leaves will be more tender than more mature leaves. Simply pinch off leaves at the base of the plant and wash before using.

Lettuce

Lettuce heads should be at least 6 inches in diameter and have a firm head of tightly wrapped leaves that has a little give when it is squeezed. Leaf lettuce can be picked at any time during its growing process. Leaf lettuce can be selectively chosen for picking to allow the rest of the leaves to mature more fully.

Onions

Onions should be harvested late in summer, before the onset of cold weather to prevent spoilage or damage from the direct sun. Bulb onions should be harvested approximately 100 to 125 days after planting. They will communicate with you and let you know when they are ready to pick. The telltale harvest sign is when the stalks turn yellowish or brown, dry out a bit, and topple over. Once you see this happen, plan for an early morning harvest when temperatures are milder. Use a pitchfork and loosen the soil around the onion stalks, then gently pull the onions up out of the ground by the stalks.

Man using pruning shears to harvest a cucumber.

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Peas

Harvesting peas is ‘easy peasy’ when it compares to other vegetables. You just have to harvest regularly, and you will have an abundant succession of crops. Pinch off pea pods when pods are green and plumply swelled, but before any withering, wrinkling, or yellowing occurs.

Potatoes

There is such a satisfying reward when it comes to harvesting potatoes. Perhaps it is the anticipation of what has been proliferating under the soil and the joy of discovery. There are two ways to harvest potatoes that have to do with when to collect them and the purpose that they will have once harvested.

Potatoes that will be consumed right away are called ‘new potatoes,’ and they can be dug up from the ground with a pitchfork. Lift medium-sized potatoes to the surface of the soil and shake away any loose dirt. If there are still very young tubers down there, leave them intact, and cover them up for more growth. Rinse in cold water and use within the next few weeks.
To harvest storage potatoes, allow the plant to proceed through its growth cycle wholly. Allow it to remain well past its blooming time for one or two weeks and then dig up your potatoes with a garden fork. Potatoes should have a firmness to the touch and feel a bit heavy for their size. They should not have any new tuber sprouts or soft discolored blemishes on their skins

Storing potatoes will need one to two weeks longer to cure. Lay them out in a cool, dark place without washing them. After this time frame, the potatoes can be brushed off of any dirt and debris. Store them over the winter in a cool, dark place that hovers around 40 degrees F. Discard or use and potatoes that have soft spots right away.

Radishes

Timing is vital when it comes to harvesting radishes. Continually check your radishes when it comes close to the number of days listed on the seed packet. Brush away the soil from the root gently and pull radishes straight up out of the ground from its leafy green leaves when the root of the vegetable reaches one inch in diameter. If you leave the radishes in the ground past this point, their flavor and texture will become less desirable.

Spinach

Watch your spinach crop for rich, dark green leaves that have grown to a healthy four to six inches in height. Pick spinach leaves from the outer layer of the plant and allow the plant’s inner portion to continue to grow and develop, which can be harvested later in a second harvest. Note that spinach is best collected and eaten when leaves are young. If you allow leaves to grow larger than four to six inches, the leaves will turn more bitter.

Swiss Chard

Snip off swiss chard leaves when they reach four to six inches high. The remaining leaves will regenerate and can be cut a second time when they are seven to ten inches tall.

Tomatoes

You may have heard the term ‘vine-ripened’ when it comes to tomatoes. Allowing tomatoes to ripen on the vine as long as possible will yield the best in flavor and texture. While there are some varieties of tomatoes that produce color variations, most of these delicate fruits come in hues of red. Look for vibrantly colored tomatoes that are full and firm, and that yield slightly when squeezed gently.


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