How & When To Harvest Vegetables

If this is your first vegetable harvest, get ready for a veritable tidal wave of produce. Seriously. Never mind worrying about your gardening skills – most vegetable gardeners, even new ones, struggle to use all their produce. But before you can think about what you’re going to do with your veggies, you have to actually harvest them.

The Golden Rule for Harvesting Vegetables

The best thing you can do to make your vegetable harvest as easy as possible is to keep track of when each plant will be ready to harvest when you plant it. Take note of growing cycles on your calendar so you know roughly when to expect to harvest. Check your seed packets for a rough idea of when your produce will be ready.

Vegetable Harvest

Before You Harvest

Before you harvest your vegetables, there are two things to keep in mind:

  1. Make sure you pick at just the right time. Too early and your vegetables won’t be ripe enough, too late and they’ll be overripe. Harvesting vegetables as soon as they’re ripe encourages your plant to produce more, and on top of that you’ll also have tastier produce. Win win.
  2. Keep an eye out for other problems. If you see yellowing leaves or rotten produce, remove it as soon as you can. There’s no point letting the plant put energy into growing something you can’t eat, and you can even pass diseases onto your healthy plants if you don’t remove the bad bits.

How To Harvest Vegetables

Each vegetable needs to be harvested in its own unique way. Here’s how to harvest a few of our favorites.

Tomatoes

Cherry TomatoesMany tomato varieties are ripe when they’re red, but you can also get yellow, orange, or even green tomato varieties, so how do you know when these ones are ripe?

When: Tomatoes are usually fully ripe when they release easily from the vine. Tomatoes will ripen slightly after being harvested, but they’ll have the best flavor if you allow them to ripen fully on the vine.

Be sure to pick all your tomatoes, even the green ones, about a week before you expect to receive your first frost of the season.

Be gentle when you remove your tomatoes from the vine. You don’t want to bruise them!

Sweet Peppers

Sweet PeppersSweet bell peppers change color as they ripen. The longer you leave them on the vine, the more colors you’ll see. They’ll turn yellow, orange, and eventually red – but the longer you let them ripen, the less crisp they’ll become.

When: Peppers can harvested when they are full-sized but still green, but if you want a sweeter pepper, leave them to ripen on the plant until they change color. Just keep in mind that hot peppers will get even hotter if you let them change color.

Lettuce

Minigarden LettucesIf you planted a “cut and come again” variety of lettuce (these varieties are mostly loose leaf lettuces from the Grand Rapids and oakleaf varieties), you can enjoy your produce all season long. If this is the case, harvest the leaves while they’re still young and tender. That way, your plant will keep producing new leaves.

When: Harvest lettuce before it bolts or produces a flower stalk. Bolted lettuce tastes bitter.

Bolting is especially common in warmer climates, but you can prevent it by planting a bolt-resistant variety, or by planting in partial shade.

Green Beans

Green BeansWait until your beans are totally dry of dew before harvesting them.

When: Pick pods when they are just shy of their maximum size – your seed packet will have some good information on this – to make sure they are nice and tender and the seeds haven’t matured yet.

Make sure you stay up to date on your green bean harvest so your plant continues to produce pods.

Peas

peasThe trick with harvesting peas is to choose a test pod – grab a pod and open it. Check and see if the seeds are large enough, and if they are, you’re good to harvest!

When: Pick your peas just before you intend to shell and eat or cook them. For snow and sugar snap peas, you’ll want a crispy, crunch pod in which the seeds are still developing and aren’t round yet. For other varieties, mature peas will be round but still tender.

Eat Your Veggies!

It’s an undisputed fact that homegrown vegetables are a million times more delicious than store-bought. So get ready for some tasty treats as you prepare for your autumn harvest – even your kids will enjoy their vegetables, especially if they helped harvest them!


Susan Austin is Sales Director for Minigarden North America. She can be reached at susan@minigardening.com.