A challenge that a lot of gardeners may face is knowing when to harvest vegetables for optimal flavour. This is crucial as one of the greatest advantages of growing your own vegetables is the ability to pick them exactly when they taste the best, without concern for the need to transport them or display them in grocery stores.
Here are some tips on harvesting some commonly grown veggies:
- Tomatoes – Feel the bottom of the tomato for softness to know whether it is ripe. This is particularly helpful for heirloom tomatoes, which aren’t necessarily red when ripe.
- Garlic – Harvest once the lower leaves die back. Count the leaves from the very bottom of the plant, including those that have already shriveled. When the bottom 3-4 leaves have died back, the plant has largely finished feeding the bulb and should be harvested.
- Zucchini – Unless the seed packet says otherwise, look for fruits that are approximately 8 inches long. Longer zucchinis can be watery or seedy so bigger is definitely not better.
- Onions – Harvest green onions based on the size of the leaves, and harvest bulbing onions once the greens flop. Of course, you can harvest them sooner but they will grow larger and sweeter if you wait until they are fully grown.
- Winter squash and melons – Wait until the stems that connect the fruit to the vines start to die back. This is the plant’s way of telling you that it is finished transferring sugars to the fruit and that the fruits are ready.
- Beans – Harvest these based on your preferred thickness of the pods. In general, aim for pods that are ¼ – ½” thick and harvest every 2-3 days so that the plants continue to produce.
- Lettuce – Decide in advance if you are harvesting lettuce by the head or by the leaves. If it’s by the head, wait until the head is of adequate size and cut the stalk just above the roots. If it’s by the leaves, cut the top 4-5” off the entire plant once it reaches 6-7” high. The remaining 2” will regrow and you can repeat this exercise a couple of weeks later.
- Potatoes – Harvest potatoes after the leaves have died back. The tubers will have stopped growing by then and they will have begun to cure underground, which is essential if you want to store your potatoes.
These are just a few sample directions – the full list of harvest attributes is long. The best piece of advice that I can offer is to taste your vegetables when you harvest them. Here are a few other things to keep in mind:
- Consider increasing/reducing water levels in advance of harvesting if you want favours that are mild/strong respectively.
- Certain vegetables such as leeks or celery can be blanched ahead of the harvest, which involves using soil or cloth to shade their lower halves from direct sunlight for 2 weeks prior to harvest to make the flavours milder.
- Where you are competing with pests for your crops (e.g., squirrels, racoons, or mice), consider harvesting everything earlier and letting them ripen indoors.