How To: Harvest Vegetables

To get the best flavor and freshness in homegrown vegetables, you must know when to harvest. While some crops wilt retain quality on the plant for some time, others must be picked promptly-both for peak ripeness and to maintain further production. Below is a guide to some popular backyard varieties:

Beans: Harvest them when they’re just starting to bulge the sides of the pod. Green (snap) beans should snap when you break them, and pods shouldn’t be stringy; pick every 3 -5 days. Harvest limas when beans are plump and green (not white). Freeze or can. Pick try beans after pods have yellowed but before they begin to shatter.

Beets: When roots are I-3 inches thick-but before they get woody-they’re ready to use. Pick thinned greens and roots anytime for salad. Dig, remove leaves, store in damp sand before stems elongate for bloom or before ground freezes.

Broccoli: Cut large, firm, green flower heads with 5 or 6 inches of stem before flowers being to open. Many more crops with heads that mature when as little as 1 inch across wilt often follow. Freeze, can or give away the excess-it won’t hold on the plant.

Brussels Sprouts: Harvest the large, lowest sprouts first as they become solid. Break off lower leaves as they begin to yellow or as sprouts start to get crowded. Freeze or can what you can’t use promptly.

Cabbage: Harvest when heads are firm. To delay splitting, twist the mature head about 2/3 around to break and loosen any of the roots. This will slow the plant’s uptake of water, which causes splitting. Can the cabbage or store it fresh in a moist dark place just above 32degrees.

Carrots: Harvest crop of medium-size varieties when carrots are 3/4 – 1 /2 inches across. If you don’t pull them at maturity they become woody. Can or store in a root cellar. Store apart from apples and pears, which give off ethylene gas which can make carrots bitter.

Cauliflower: As curds (the white part of plant) reach silver dollar-size, tie leaves over them (except’ Purple Head’, which doesn’t need blanching). Pick just before the curd separates into flowers. Cut beneath the top set of leaves.

Corn: As silk tassels begin to wither and tum brown, feel for plump kernels through the husk. As a final test, peel back the husk and pierce a kernel with your thumbnail. If juice is clear, let the com mature a few days longer. If it’ s milky, pick for freezing or eating fresh. If liquid is creamy or pasty, it’s acceptable for canning but too starchy for fresh eating. For unsurpassed flavor, cook and eat com right after picking.

Cucumbers: Harvest time depends on intended use. For sweet pickles, pick when 2-3 inches long. For dills, when 5-6 inches long; for slicing fresh, when 6-8 inches long. Armenian and Japanese varieties keep their quality up to 20 inches long. Gather lemon cukes before diameter reaches 3 inches. Cut with Y4inch stems. To slow production, leave old cukes on vine.

Eggplant: Fruit is at its best when it’s larger than a duck egg (or about hot dog-size for a Japanese eggplant) and glossy, dark purple. Pick with about Y2inch of stem before glossy skin starts to dull.

Garlic: When tops start to yellow, stop watering. In rainy climates, you may need to knock them over to start the drying process. After three weeks, dig up and dry them on newspapers in a shaded place. Trim off tops and roots, store apart from other crops or braid some to hang up.

Honeydew Melons: Pick when skin turns cream color and blossom end softens .

Herbs: These are best harvested when the first flowers are about to open. Pick branches of small-leafed kinds and hang them in a warm, dry place with good ventilation. Pick leaves of large-leafed kinds and dry them one layer deep on a screen, also in a warm, dry, well-ventilated place. Store in sealed containers; crush with a mortar and pestle before use.

Leeks: They’re ready after they reach 1 inch or more in diameter; leave in the ground until you’re ready to eat them .

Lettuce: Pick leaf lettuce anytime from seedling (thinning) size on. Harvest the heads soon after they develop from centers. Bibb types are best after loose heads form.

Muskmelon (Cantaloupe): Stop watering after most melons reach mature size. They’re ready when netting on skin is prominent; melons should separate form the vine with just a slight tug.

Onions: Harvest as you would garlic.

Parsnips: Once roots are large enough to use, harvest as needed. Store in the ground (but use before spring resprouting).

Peas: Pick during the cool part of the day after peas.have started to bulge the sides of the pod. For a milder flavor, pick Chinese snow peas while pods are full-size but nearly flat. All peas are most tender, succulent, and sweet when on the small side. Harvest every three days for eating fresh, canning, or freezing.

Peppers: Harvest peppers with 1, 12inch of stem anytime after they ‘re big enough to eat. Green bell peppers are at their sweetest after they’ve turned red; store in the refrigerator. Hot peppers are best after they reach full size and tum red, yellow, or green, depending upon varieties. Eat fresh or string up peppers and air dry them as you would herbs.

Potatoes: Gently dig old potatoes with a spading fork anytime after tops have died back. Air dry in the shade two days, then store inside a barrel packed with hardwood sawdust in a place where temperatures don’t dip much below 30 degrees.

Radishes: Pick when big enough to use but before they become woody.

Summer Squash: Cut off with 1 inch of stem attached while small and tender, before skin hardens and flesh becomes fibrous. It’s almost impossible to harvest them too small.

Swiss chard: Eat thinnings anytime. Pick leaves as soon as they are ready to use but before the plant goes to seed. you leave the crown intact as you harvest, leaves will continue to sprout.

Tomatoes: Gather them after they tum red but while they’re still firm. Don’t’ leave any stem on the fruit. When frost threatens, pick all green tomatoes and let them ripen in a warm spot indoors, out of direct sun. Can or puree and freeze. Stored in a dry place between 55 and 70 degrees, they’ll keep up to six weeks.

Watermelons: Cut melons with 2 inches of stem after adjacent vine tendril withers and white skin on bottom of melons turns yellow. Thumping a mature melon should produce a hollow sound.

Winter Squash & Pumpkins: Cut with 1 inch of stem after vine dries up. Pumpkins are ready when gold. Air dry, then store in a cool dry room.

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