As a gardener, you already know that one of the best things about summer is the daily bounty that you find in your vegetable garden. During the middle of summer you might actually find it a bit overwhelming, and either ignore, or not notice, the ripe produce that needs picking.
But, if you’ve gone to all that trouble to grow a healthy crop, letting it languish on the vine would be a mistake. Picking your vegetables at the optimum time is important for several reasons. First, you want to ensure that you get the longest season possible. Too many mature fruits will make the plant stop producing, so harvesting regularly will spread out your harvest season.
And, let’s face it — we grow our veggies for the flavor, so you want to pick them when they are at their tastiest or at the “peak of flavor.” As I have written before, having a garden journal and keeping track of when you plant your seeds and the days to maturity will help you gauge when this peak flavor should happen.
As a general rule, most vegetables taste better when they are young and tender. Bigger is not better — or tastier. Check your crop every day. Most vegetables need to be harvested every day.
Here are some tips on when and how to harvest some popular summer vegetables.
- Cantaloupe – When cantaloupe is ripe, a crack forms around the stem next to the fruit and it just slips easily from the stem. At this stage, it only takes a little pressure to pull it away from the stem, so check for this crack and you will know it is ripe.
- Corn – Harvest sweet corn when the silks are dry/brown and the kernels are plump and tender. The kernels should exude a milky substance when pricked. You can check a few ears for maturity by opening them at the top of the ear and pressing a few kernels with your thumbnail and looking for this milky juice.
- Cucumbers – Make sure to harvest them early, before the seeds become about ˝ inch, although seed size does vary by variety. Generally, most varieties will be 1 ˝ to 2 ˝ inches in diameter and five to eight inches long. Overripe cucumbers can be bitter or stringy so make sure to check them daily. They should be firm and smooth.
- Green Beans – Pick before you can see the seeds bulging. They should snap in two easily and because they can get tough quickly, check them daily.
- Summer Squash – Always harvest when the fruit is young and tender because the smaller the squash is when you pick it, the better it will taste. Cut all fruit off and never lift squash by the stem. You want to cut it before it gets about eight inches long when the skin is still soft (when skin can be easily broken by a fingernail) and before seeds ripen. Letting it get too big will also slow down production of tender new fruit.
- Tomatoes – While each variety varies, in general, the best time to pick your tomatoes is when the fruit is evenly red and the end is still firm and not soft. Try to pull them from the vine by gently twisting them. Leave the fruit on the plant to ripen as long as possible (unless you are having trouble with pests) to give yourself a longer season.
Image credit: qmnonic via Flickr