After spending the past few months planting and caring for your vegetable plants, it is time to harvest. Just remember that not every plant is ready for harvest at the same time, so you need to continue to care for the plants that are still growing. Our general vegetable care guidelines will serve you well in the garden the rest of the season.
For peak flavor, pick vegetables at the proper time
Depending on when you planted or sowed seed, by now you very well could be enjoying your own home-grown vegetables. Although some crops are ready in just a few short weeks, most take up to 12 weeks or more to mature.
One of the keys to enjoying your home-grown vegetables is to pick them at just the right time to get their peak flavor. That means picking them when they’re ready, and not leaving them on the plant too long. Cucumbers, for example, will become coarse and full of seeds if not picked promptly. Also, picking vegetables is like deadheading flowers – the plants stop producing if the crops are not harvested.
For picking purposes, vegetable crops can be divided into three categories: those that cannot wait for harvesting, those that can wait a few days, and those that can wait a few weeks.
Crops that cannot wait:
Crops that can wait a few days:
- Lettuce and other salad greens
- Summer squash
Crops that can wait a few weeks:
- Beets and other root vegetables
- Most herbs
- Winter squash
If you are not sure you can eat all of the vegetables at harvest, you may want to pick them and prepare them for keeping. Freezing, drying, or canning and preserving will enable you to harvest vegetables at their peak, then enjoy them later…even in the middle of winter.
To share the bounty of your harvest, consider donating some of your vegetables to a local food bank or shelter that distributes food to the homeless and other people in need.
Although many plants are damaged or killed by cold, the flavor of some cool-weather vegetables is improved by a light frost. These include kale, celery, parsnips and brussels sprouts.