Whether a first time gardener or a seasoned veteran – there is nothing that compares to harvest time!

Harvest time can be an exciting time for gardeners!
Harvest time can be an exciting time for gardeners!

All of the hard work of digging, planting and watering has finally paid off.  The tomatoes and cucumbers are finally ripening on the vines – the peppers are growing large and firm, and new zucchini, peas and beans are showing up every day.

However, as simple and easy as harvesting sounds – there are a few tricks of the trade that can really help you get the most out of your garden when it comes time to pick those veggies.

When and how you pick not only can make a huge difference when it comes to the freshness and taste of your garden produce – but they can also help that bountiful harvest going deep into the growing season.

1. Make going to your garden a daily habit

Daily trips to your garden are a must during harvest time.  Grab that harvest basket and walk the rows each and every day to get a feel for what is happening. This time of year – things can change quickly!  That tiny cucumber or half-ripe tomato can go from just right –  to just rotten – in just a few days!

With that said – here are a few more tips and tricks to get the most from your garden when harvesting:

2. Harvesting at the right time.

Picking at the right time ensure maximum flavor and sweetness - like these just picked Cherokee Purple Tomatoes
Picking at the right time ensure maximum flavor and sweetness – like these just picked Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

Almost all vegetables are best harvested in the cool morning hours so that the crops are as crisp and stress-free as possible.  We have all walked in the garden in the hot sun of a summer afternoon and watched the leaves wilting from the stress of the day. Well, much like your leaves – the fruits and vegetables on your vines and plants are under the maximum stress at that time as well – giving up much of their moisture and crispness to help handle the heat of the day.  Picking in the early morning means that your veggies are at their peak of flavor, freshness and moisture content.

 If the early morning just isn’t possible – then try picking late in the evening when the plants have begun to recover.

3. Tread carefully and watch your step.

Be sure when you are picking to watch where you step.  Walking right near the root zone of plants can compress the soil and roots and make it hard for water, air and nutrients to work their way into the plant. 

In addition, watch out for those sprawling vines of cucumbers, watermelons, etc – stepping on them can limit future growth and production, and knock of the blooms set to give you more produce.

4. Remove damaged fruit and foliage.

Cutting off damaged or diseased veggies from plants can make the rest of your produce grow strong
Cutting off damaged or diseased veggies from plants can make the rest of your produce grow strong

Be sure as you are harvesting to pick off the fruit that shows obvious signs of damage.  Not only will it most likely rot before ever ripening – the damaged fruit is also robbing valuable resources from other blooms and vegetables on the stalk. In addition – keeping the “bad apples” out of the bunch so to speak – can help keep disease and rot from spreading to other fruits and veggies.

While you’re at it – remove any foliage that shows obvious signs of yellowing or black-spotted leaves to keep damage to a minimum and from spreading to healthy portions of the plant.

5. The importance of regular harvesting – keep picking for peak production

One of the best ways to keep the veggie coming is to keep picking!

Picking early and often can keep peppers can keep plants like peppers producing
Picking early and often can keep peppers can keep plants like peppers producing

Harvesting early and often helps keep vegetable plants in reproduction mode longer, which in turn increases yields. Picking vegetables as soon as they are ripe often encourages the plant to produce more blooms and eventually more fruit.

This is not true for all crops (example – tomatoes of the “determinate” variety will bear for a few weeks and be done no matter what)  But indeterminate varieties  (many of the heirlooms) will keep on growing until frost – and keeping them picked will encourage the plants to keep producing.

The same can be said for those cucumbers, peas, peppers and zucchini –  too much ripening fruit left on the vines can signal to the plant to stop producing new blooms and

The biggest harvesting sin gardeners commit is waiting until produce is too big or too old. This results in produce that is tough, bitter, or diseased. Check your vegetable garden daily and pick what you can when it’s small and tender. (Frequent harvesting also encourages more production.)

6. When is a veggie ready to be picked?

As for when to pick – most vegetables are at their peak of tenderness and flavor when they are on the smaller side – so be careful not to let them go another “few days” to hopefully get bigger.

A day's harvest from the farm last summer - always a good feeling knowing what is in (and what is not) your food!
A day’s harvest from the farm last summer – always a good feeling knowing what is in (and what is not) your food!

It’s hard for some first-time gardeners to understand that most home-grown garden produce will not get as big and beautiful as what you see in your local grocery store.  Of course, those are grown to be plump with chemicals, fertilizers and bug sprays to look good – not necessarily taste good!

What your garden veggies may lack in size will more than be made up in flavor!

Your vegetables should be firm to the touch and showing most of their final color when ready to be picked – the best advice is to refer back to the seed packet or plant label that came with your plant or seeds to see the recommended picking time.

Enough of the reading now – get out and check on that garden! 🙂

Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary

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