When to Harvest Garden-Fresh Produce

Knowing when to harvest will guarantee the most flavorful produce from your garden. Eliminate much of the guesswork with this guide — and never lament a crop picked under- or over-ripe again!


| August/September 2004



Garden Harvesting

Handle every piece like the delicate jewel it is to avoid bruises or nicks that would invite decay and jeopardize your enjoyment of the essence of perfection.


Photo courtesy Fotolia/Africa Studio

The secret to enjoying garden-fresh produce at its prime is knowing when to harvest. If you’ve ever eaten a melon that lacked sweetness or green beans that were fibrous and tough, you know how crucial timing can be. Just as different vegetables have their own distinct needs for planting, fertilizing and growing, each also will give certain clues when it is ready to pick.

A few vegetables are very accommodating and can stay in the ground for weeks until you’re ready to eat them. Others need continual picking to ensure ongoing production of a crop, but most have a short window of time during which they can be gathered at peak flavor. After a vegetable passes its prime, it undergoes permanent changes that alter its taste, appearance, quality and, sometimes, its future production. Sugars turn to starches, and the texture becomes mushy, like an overripe melon or chewy green beans.

On the other hand, if you pick too soon, you’ll harvest a vegetable that has not had adequate time to develop peak flavor, substance or nutrition.

The following is a guide to help you know precisely when your summer and fall fruits and vegetables have reached their peak of perfection and are ready to be picked and eaten.

Beans should be checked daily for harvesting. Snap beans/green beans are ready when the pods have filled out but the seeds are still tiny, which, depending on weather conditions, is usually some two to four weeks after bloom. The pods should be firm and crisp, with pliable tips. Pick haricot (French filet) types when the pods are about one-eighth inch in diameter, while they’re still young and very slender.

Beets can be picked when the roots are from 1 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter, and most taste best when they are about the size of a ping-pong ball or golf ball. White and golden varieties are tasty and tender until they reach baseball size, but storage (winter-keeping) varieties remain tender until they reach softball size or even slightly larger. When harvested past their prime, beets have a strong taste and a tough, pithy texture.





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