By Mara Higdon
Harvesting your vegetables is the reward for all the toil and trouble you go through keeping the rabbits away, crushing cucumber beetles, and drowning slugs in beer. But, the exact time to harvest can sometimes be hard to discern. Daily examination of your vegetables is key, as they can become overripe overnight, especially with fluctuating temperatures. Many crops will not resemble in size what you may find in the grocery store. The best way to test ripeness in many vegetables is to taste them. For many of the root crops, you will just have to look at the “shoulders” of the veggie at the soil’s surface to gauge the size. If the diameter is large enough for the variety you are growing, then pull! I’ve listed a few of the more common vegetables grown in our area with tips gathered from my experience and, as always, advice given to me from fellow gardeners.
- Snap Beans: The beans should snap in half easily. Pick daily!
- Beets: Harvest the tops as you thin your seedlings and use them in salad. When you see the shoulders harvest beets when small for use in salads and larger beets for roasting and making soups or stews.
- Broccoli: Broccoli can bolt as temperatures rise. Check on them often and harvest when the buds are the size of a matchstick.
- Brussel Sprouts: Harvest sprouts when they are about 1 – 1½ inches in diameter by cutting them from the bottom of the stem.
- Carrots: You just have to pull them. If the “shoulders” are the appropriate diameter for your variety then they hopefully will be the right length.
- Cauliflower: Cut the heads when they are full, leaving a few of the leaves of the plant attached until ready to use.
- Corn: Pick corn when the silks turn dry and brown. Kernels should release a milky sweet liquid when punctured with your fingernail.
- Cucumber: Cucumbers are ripe when firm and have a green, dull color to them. Over mature cucumbers will be yellow and bitter.
- Eggplant: Cut, don’t pull, eggplants that are firm and shiny. When over mature they will yellow and be tough.
- Garlic: When the garlic tops brown and fall over they are ready to dig. Don’t water for the last 2 weeks before harvesting to keep the bulbs from rotting. Allow to air dry for at least two weeks in a cool dry place. Don’t wash!
- Leaf Lettuce: Harvest the outer leaves one the plant has reached about 4 inches in height. Allow the younger, inner leaves to grow. Continue to harvest until lettuce tastes bitter.
- Onions: Dig onions once the tops have fallen over. Dry in the sun.
- Swiss Chard: Similar to lettuce, cut the outer leaves and allow the center to continue growing.
- Watermelon: The white spot on the bottom of the melon should change to a deep yellow when ripe.
Mara Higdon is the Program Director at Gateway Greening. They focus on community development throughout the St Louis area.