Ensure a happy harvest with this helpful how-to guide.
You've worked hard to grow your fruits and veggies, and harvesting them properly is critical not just in keeping them fresh and intact, but also in ensuring that you maximize the harvest itself.
That's why it's helpful to have a guide, so that you know what the fruit or vegetable should look like when you harvest it. You don't want to pick it too early, while its edibility is limited, or too late, when it might be spoiled. Knowing exactly when to harvest your fruit and vegetable crops can make all the difference in flavor and storability—picking "ripened best" will give you the freshest, most delectable produce possible. While the harvest schedule you'll find on most seed packets is helpful, you shouldn't be literal to the day. Maturation rates can vary each year, depending on growing conditions: fluctuations in the weather, changes in watering, type of fertilizer, soil temperatures, and more. Therefore, visual and tactile cues are the most reliable way to know when your produce is ready to be harvested.
Read on to learn about harvesting tips for the most popular fruits and vegetables . . .
First and foremost, you'll need to examine your plants daily during harvest season. Be especially vigilant about checking your crops for signs of disease. Harvest any infected produce immediately, and dispose of it in the garbage. DO NOT compost it.
With some fruiting plants, continual harvesting is one of the best ways to stimulate more production. Plus, you may want to sample some of the produce during development to decide when it tastes best, as this can be subjective.
Some crops can easily be picked by hand, such as beans and peas, but others—squash, cabbage, and broccoli, for example—may require garden clippers or a knife. Regardless of what you're harvesting, keep this in mind: you should harvest at the coolest point in the day, which is generally early in the morning, to ensure your produce is at its freshest.
Butternut squash is ready to harvest when the fruit has turned fully tan and the stem has turned brown and hard. To ensure the skin thickens—which is necessary for over-winter storage—leave the fruit on the vine until late September or early October. Just be sure to keep an eye on your local weather reports, and harvest it before the first frost.
Cantaloupes have a sweet, musky aroma when they're ripe, and the rind turns from green to tan between the surface netting. The tendrils and stem will also turn brown. If the stem slips off easily when pressed at the base with your thumb, the melon is ready.
Carrots can be harvested at any time before they exceed an inch in diameter; about ½ -inch to ¾ -inch is good. Givethem a twist when you pull them up, so the leaves don't break off, but then remove the leaves. If you don't, the tops will keep growing and take moisture and nourishment out of the roots.
Cucumbers must be harvested when still immature; if they yellow on the vine, the plant will stop producing. They're best at 3-4 inches for pickling varieties and 6-8 inches for slicing varieties. Pick them often, so the plants will produce more fruit.
Eggplant can also be picked at any state of maturity. If you take them when small, you'll enjoy baby eggplants. Make sure the skins are still shiny if you take them when they're mature; otherwise they will taste bitter.
Leaf lettuce can be harvested once the leaves are large enough to use. You can pick from the outside and let the inner leaves continue to grow, or crop the whole plant an inch above the soil and let it all re-grow.
Peppers are edible at most stages of the growth process. Some people prefer to pick them when they're very young and green; others like to wait until they’ve turned red or yellow. Just be sure to pick them when they're firm, and wear gloves when you pick the hotter types (oils in the skins can irritate your skin or worse, your eyes if you accidentally touch them after handling these spicy little buggers).
Snap peas and beans (pole and bush varieties) are ready for harvest when the pods are young and green, before the seeds are well developed. Take them when they're pencil size—and several times a week—to ensure a continuous harvest. If any pods mature, the plant will stop blooming.
Summer squash and zucchini are best picked while immature, tender enough to be easily penetrated with a fingernail. Yellow squash is best harvested when it’s between 4-8 inches in length (2 inches in diameter); zucchini is best at 6-8 inches long. Since patty pan squash (also called scallop squash) loses moisture quickly, it should be harvested when it’s very young and has turned from green to yellow or white and measures 2-4 inches across. Frequent picking of any summer squash variety will result in the plants producing more blossoms and fruit.
Tomatoes are the most popular vegetables grown in the EarthBox® gardening system. While they can be picked when still green (fried green tomatoes are delicious), most people prefer to pick their tomatoes once they've turned fully-colored on the vine (red, yellow, or purple), and are still firm.
Watermelon is ripe when you notice the green tendrils drying out and turning brown. This indicates that the plant is done feeding the fruit and it’s ready to harvest. If your fruit is trailing on the ground, another indication it’s ripe is when the underside turns yellow (this visual cue typically won’t happen if you’re growing vertically and supporting the fruit on a trellis or Staking System).
Cleaning the Bounty
Wash your produce carefully under cool running water in a clean sink, but don't soak it. Firm fruits and vegetables, such as potatoes and melons, can be scrubbed with a sanitized vegetable brush. Never use detergents, soaps, or bleach on your produce. Not only will these products change the flavor of the vegetables, they may also be harmful to ingest.
Dry your produce thoroughly before storing it, and be sure to wash it again before preparing it.
Whatever you choose to grow in your EarthBox® garden, your local garden center or county extension agent can help you with advice on harvesting your crops.
Tell us in the comments: Share your tips for how you know when your produce is perfectly ripe for picking!