You put in all kinds of work to finally harvest, but how do you know when the time is right to pick?
This is a common question among gardeners. We have this misconception in our heads that what we do in our backyards is going to look identical to what we find on a grocery store shelf.
Also, we tend to be impatient and pick too soon, or get sidetracked and pick too late. All these things matter when harvesting a garden.
If you are curious about how to pick your garden at the right time, here are some tips to help you along:
1. Check Your Garden Daily
When your garden begins to ripen, it will hit you all at once. It is the way the cookie crumbles. Therefore, it is important to check your garden every day.
If you don’t check your garden daily, you could not only miss out on produce, but you are leaving produce to rot in your garden. This draws pests which means your garden could quickly become overtaken with a disease.
None of this is good, which is why it is best to check your garden every day. This way you get the harvest you’ve worked hard for, and it can keep coming since there will be nothing there to draw bugs.
Also, keep in mind, if you pick your plants when they first ripen it encourages the plants to produce more in most cases.
2. Pick Small
Have you ever gone to pick a zucchini and it looks to be the size of a football? That’s not actually good.
Don’t wait until your vegetables grow too big. It is best to pick produce when it’s small. This is the time most vegetable varieties are at their most tender, have better flavor, and haven’t developed as many seeds.
But if you do run across a football-sized zucchini, don’t toss. Instead, grate it and make delicious chocolate zucchini bread with it.
In case of zucchini, it is best to pick them when they’re around six inches in length. It may not look like much, but if your plant is producing in high gear (as they usually do) you’ll have plenty to go around.
3. Be Gentle
Harvesting is a great job to assign to your kids. They also find it fun to be allowed to pick things from plants.
However, if you need your child’s help, make sure to remind them to be gentle with the produce. Vegetables can be easily bruised. It is important to gently pick them and place them in the basket or bucket.
It’s not just a matter of appearance. If you bruise the skin of the produce, it could lead to rot which will shorten the lifespan of the vegetable once harvested.
When this happens, you’ll have to cook it immediately or it could go bad.
Still, it’s best to avoid this scenario altogether instead of having to rush to cook up your harvest to not lose it.
4. Use Large Enough Baskets
A way to make harvesting easier and also avoid bruising is to make sure you use large enough baskets to harvest with.
When I harvest, I prefer to use five-gallon buckets when picking green beans and large bushel baskets when harvesting fruits, tomatoes, eggplants, squash, lettuce, cabbage, and other larger plants.
If you don’t have either of these options on hand, consider using a clothes basket. You could also use a washbasin or a galvanized tub as well. If the vegetables have enough room to breathe, it should work.
5. Watch Where You Step
It is important you watch where you step when you are harvesting your vegetables. Gardens can be tight to maneuver in.
Therefore, you’ll need to make sure you either have clear walkways, or you watch where you put your feet.
Not only can you step on vegetables which need to be harvested without knowing it, but you could also step on plants too.
This could damage the plants and create openings for disease and pests to make their way to your plants and harm them.
In turn, this harms your harvest. It is amazing how something as small as watching where you step can be helpful to your garden and your harvest.
6. Keep Track
When you plant an entire garden, it can be difficult to keep up with what you planted, what variety you planted, how long it takes to reach harvest, and what the harvest should look like once you’ve reached that point.
You’ll need to be sure to keep track of the information to help you through harvest. If you know what variety you planted and how long it takes to reach harvest, you will know when to begin looking for a harvest from each plant.
Also, by knowing what variety you planted, you should know what the harvest should look like to help prevent harvesting mistakes.
For instance, if you planted a mega-variety of a fruit or vegetable, it would be terrible to harvest them early because you didn’t realize it was a larger variety. You would miss out on produce.
Yet, if you keep track of this information, you’ll harvest everything right on time and get the amount of produce you intended on having when you planted your garden.
7. Check for Disease
When you are harvesting your garden, it is a good time to check your plants’ health as well. You should check the leaves to see if there are any spots or discoloration.
These could be symptoms of a disease or pest which has moved in on your garden. If you feel like you rarely have the time to check on your plants, schedule it every day when you are outside picking.
This way, nothing should slip by you, and the health of your plants shouldn’t deteriorate either. It is another simple step, but one which could save your harvest.
8. Don’t be Unrealistic
When you grow your own vegetables, you will soon realize they don’t usually look like what you buy at the grocery store.
For instance, when you grow broccoli, the heads don’t get as large as the broccoli heads you buy at the grocery.
Having unrealistic expectations can cause you issues during harvest. You’ll watch the plants and ponder, “They don’t look like what I’m used to.”
Next thing you know, you keep waiting for them to look like what you are used to seeing, and they end up becoming rotten before you ever get to harvest them.
It is important to know what your harvest should look like. This way you’ll be prepared and not miss out on a perfect harvest because of expectations your garden simply can’t meet.
9. Harvest Stems Quickly
There are certain vegetables and herbs we eat which don’t produce fruit. We enjoy eating the actual plant.
Produce like herbs and lettuce should be picked early. This is when they are most tender and have the best flavor.
If you wait too long, they sometimes bolt which will change the texture and flavor of the harvest. You don’t want this.
In your harvest’s best interest, pick vegetables that are stem vegetables early on.
10. Let the Fruits Hang
There are some plants in your garden which you don’t eat. Instead, you eat the product of the plant.
For instance, plants like tomatoes, apple trees, peppers, and peaches are all products of a plant. You won’t want to pick these as early as possible.
Instead, leave them to ripen fully on the plant. This is important information to keep in mind when harvesting your garden.
This way, you won’t pick some varieties of vegetation too quickly.
The Right Time and Method to Harvest Popular Plants
Except for certain plants, you can harvest most vegetables without tools. But if you want to avoid ruining the branch or the entire plant, you might want to have a small knife or pruning shears.
Make a mental note of how your mature herb produce looks like. Then cut herbs back as frequently as possible once they’re ready. Store in a dry paper towel in your fridge to absorb any moisture they might have.
Then dry them as soon as you harvest them for longer storage.
When the tomato releases easily from the stem, you know they are ripe.
You can also judge them based on color. Different varieties of tomatoes produce different colored plants and fruits, so make sure to check your variety first and harvest when the color is right.
Harvesting peppers can be a game of guessing. If it’s a green pepper plant, you should be okay to pick them regardless of size. Down wait for them to turn red, orange, or yellow because of their flavor changes.
The best time to pick lettuce is while the weather is still cool outside. Use scissors to cut leaf lettuce, or use a sharp knife to cut a whole head of lettuce when it has reached the desired size.
Green beans should be picked when they have almost reached their full size. You don’t want them to reach full maturity because they become tough and full of large beans.
Don’t pick green beans in the morning because they are still wet with dew. Doing so could spread diseases to your crops.
Harvesting peas is a trial and error. When you see the peas swelling and forming pods, you need to pick one to see what is inside.
When you open the pod, if the peas are the desired size, start picking the others. If not, wait a little longer to begin picking.
The best way to know if a melon is ready to harvest is to thump it. If you get a hollow sound, it should be ripe. You can also smell it, if there is a sweet aroma coming from it, they should be ripe.
Harvesting watermelon is easy. Check the spot where the watermelon has been on the ground. When the spot turns yellowish instead of light brown or white, you know the watermelon is ready to harvest.
Check the variety of cucumber you planted and see what’s the size the cucumber is supposed to reach. When the cucumbers reach the correct size, you pick them.
Keep a watchful eye because cucumbers might hide in-between leaves, and they grow quickly.
When you see your corn is making ears feel the ears to see if you can also feel the kernels inside them under the husk.
Also, see if the silk on top of the ear is drying. If so, find a kernel of corn and squeeze it. If you get a milk colored sap from the kernel, you’ll know your ears of corn are ready for harvest.
It is important to check what varieties of root vegetables you planted. You’ll need to know how long they take to harvest.
Around harvest date, you can begin checking them. Begin pulling out some root vegetables to see if they’ve grown to size yet. If you are satisfied with their size, begin harvesting your root vegetables.
Garlic is another crop easy to harvest. You look at the tops of the garlic. When they have turned brown and fallen over, you’ll know the bulbs are ready.
However, when you harvest them, don’t wash them. Instead, allow them to dry out before you try to store them.
Eggplant tastes better when it is smaller. You’ll know it is ready because it should be firm and should also have a sheen to it.
When your eggplant is ready for harvest, be sure to cut it lose from the plant instead of pulling it.
When you see the tops of your onions flopped over, you’ll know it is time to dig the onions out. From there, you’ll need to store them.
Potatoes are another simple crop to harvest. Wait until the tops are dry and have turned brown before you being to harvest.
When this happens, begin digging up the potatoes. Be sure to start digging wide around the potatoes to keep from damaging them.
Well, you now know a few tips to make harvesting your garden easier. You also know how to harvest some of the most common garden vegetables.