Jun 30, 2010

When to Harvest Vegetables

If you planted any vegetables this spring, you may now find yourself wondering when it's okay to harvest and eat them. If you planted from seed, hopefully you still have your seed packets laying around; if so, they should give an approximate idea of how long it takes the vegetable to mature. For example, my Lincoln Pea seed packet says my peas will be ready to pick in about 68 days after germination - or about the time I first saw green popping up through the ground. But this is just an educated guess.

Here are some popular vegetables, with tips on determining when they are ready to pick and eat:

Beans (green):
When you think it's about time to harvest beans, pick one and snap it in half. If it snaps easily, finish harvesting. Do not wait until you can see the seeds bulging inside the pod, or you'll end up with tough, not very flavorful food.

Beets: You may dig up beets any time you can see the tops of the vegetable poking up through the soil. If the beets grow over 2 inches or so, they'll be tougher and more leathery. Don't forget that beet greens are edible, too.

The biggest mistake home gardeners make is waiting for their broccoli heads to get huge. They almost certainly won't get as big as grocery store broccoli heads, so pick when the green buds on the head are approximately the size of a match's head. Pick as soon as possible, or you risk letting those little green buds pop open into flowers.

Brussel sprouts:
The first Brussel sprouts to mature are the ones near the bottom of the plant. Harvest when they are about an inch around.

Cabbage: When the head feels solid, it's time to harvest.

Carrots: Often carrots are ready when the tops begin poking through the soil, but usually you just have to pick one and find out if the crop is fully ripened. Again, remember carrot greens are edible, too. Also, carrots can be left in the soil through much of the winter, especially if you put a thick layer of straw over them. But the longer they are in the soil, the more tough and less sweet they'll become.

Cauliflower: Don't wait for the heads to get as large as store-bought cauliflower. Instead, harvest when the head looks full and before the sections in the head begin to loosen.

Remove young leaves a little at a time, always leaving at least 3 of the youngest center leaves alone so the plant will continue to produce.

Corn is nearly ready for harvesting when the ears appear plump and the silk at the top of each ear is dark brown and dry. Corn is at its peak you puncture a kernel with your fingernail and the liquid inside is translucent.

Cucumber: Cucumbers should be firm and smooth. Pick them young because older cucumbers are bitter and pithy.

Garlic: When the green tops begin falling over and turning brown, harvest right away or the garlic may rot. (Be sure to brush off the soil on the garlic head and allow the head to dry in a sunny location before storing.)

Kohlrabi: Harvest when the above-ground bulb is 2 or 3 inches around. If they become larger, they'll be edible, but more tough.

Harvest when the vegetable is about an inch in diameter.

Harvest head lettuce when it feels firm and full. Leaf lettuce can be harvested a little at a time, as long as you leave at least 3 or 4 inner, young leaves to continue growing. Lettuce is prone to bolting in hot weather, which may result in no harvest at all.

Onions: Dig up onions when the green tops fall over. (Be sure to brush off the dirt and let them dry out in a sunny location before storing.) Ordinary white or yellow onions can also be harvest as green onions if you pull them up when you begin to see a bit of the white bulb showing above ground.

Parsnips: For best flavor, leave them in the ground until after you've had a good frost. Like carrots, parsnips can be left in the ground most of the winter if given a thick mulch of straw. The longer you leave them, though, the tougher they'll become.

Peas: When the pea pods look full and feel heavy, pick one and taste it to determine whether the crop is ready for harvest.

Potatoes: For "new" potatoes, harvest when the green tops go to flower. Otherwise, wait until the green tops turn brown.

Pumpkin: When a pumpkin's skin is hard and is of the correct color, it's ready to cut from the vine. If the skin is easy to pierce with your fingernail, it's not yet ripe.

Radishes: When the tops of the vegetable start popping up through the soil, they are ready to harvest. Don't leave them in the ground too long, or they'll get tough.

Spinach: Harvest by removing a few young leaves at a time, leaving at least 3 center leaves so the plant continues producing. When flower stalks appear, the spinach will quickly become bitter. Harvest the last few leaves and pull the plant from the garden.

Swiss Chard: Remove the outer "branches" at little at a time, leaving at least 3 young center branches to continue growing.

Squash (winter): When the squash turns the appropriate color, cut it off the vine. Once exposed to frost, squash will rot.

Tomatoes: Harvest when the fruit is barely soft and the correct color.

When ready for harvest, turnips are about 2 or 2 1/2 inches around, just above the soil line. Don't wait to harvest turnips, or they'll turn tough.

Watermelon: When the stem curls and browns, and the white spot where the melon touches the soil turns yellow, it's ready to harvest. Some people also like to rap the melon with their knuckles; if the melon sounds hollow, they say it's ready to pick.

Zucchini: When the correct color, harvest. Zucchini skin is supposed to be so tender your fingernail pokes through it easily.

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