Do you know when to harvest vegetables in the garden, and fruit? It’s sometimes hard to tell when the produce is perfectly ready. There are some basic rules to go by. Here are tips to harvest some of the most popular vegetables (and fruits) that people love to grow.
How to pick vegetables from the garden
Harvesting methods vary greatly from plant to plant. Some fruits and veggies need to be cut to avoid damaging the plant and others slip off the plants on their own. Some plant’s harvesting methods call for gardeners to remove the plant from the garden where others are left in place to continue to produce. Click here for some gardening wows you didn’t know. (At least some of them you didn’t)
Read on for methods to harvest vegetables in the garden and how to tell when vegetables are ripe (and fruits). It’s easy once you get used to doing it.
When are tomatoes ready to pick
Tomatoes are an unusual vegetable to harvest in the garden because they are gloriously tasty when fully ripened on the vine, BUT, if you wait until the very ripest point, you may not get to enjoy them.
Predators of the garden harvest, such as raccoons, squirrels, bugs and birds LOVE to take a bite out of tomatoes and ruin the fruit or even steal the whole thing. There is nothing more annoying when going to harvest tomatoes than finding a bite out of it so you can’t use the vegetable.
I am all for sharing, and I would love for the animals to have a little, but in my experience, they are greedy and take too much of my harvest.
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Tomatoes can be harvested from the garden when they first blush. This means that they just barely begin to show color. You can pick tomatoes by gently holding on to the vine and carefully pulling the tomato, trying not to crush it. Then you can ripen your tomatoes on the kitchen counter until they are the perfect, yummy tomato color.
Tomatoes come in red, orange, green, yellow and even purples and pinks. Check what kind of tomato you have and let it get to the perfect color so the full sweetness and flavor comes through. Click here for a more in-depth article on picking tomatoes.
If you are overrun with excess tomatoes, click here for how to use excess tomatoes.
When to pick herbs
Harvesting herbs in the garden is fairly simple. Knowing when is much simpler than when to harvest vegetables in the garden. You grab some scissors and cut the number of herbs you need. There is not a lot you can do to damage herbs because they are hardy growers, so just cut what you need.
Try to herbs with complex stems just below where a stem comes out of the main stem. Cut herbs like chives, cilantro and parsley a few inches above the ground and they will regrow for you. Herbs are pretty much always ripe, so harvesting them is a no-brainer. Just pick some when you need them.
Here’s more on how to use excess herbs.
When are watermelons ready to pick and cantaloupe
Knowing when melons are ripe in your garden is a pretty straightforward task. Watermelon is ripe when the tendril or curly q just above where the melon is attached to the stem turns black and shrivels up. It’s so hard to be patient with your melons because they take quite a while to ripen, but if you don’t wait, they are tasteless and sour.
Harvesting methods for cantaloupe are super simple too. All you have to do to know when it’s time to harvest your cantaloupe is wait until it slips off the vine on its own. Then it will be perfect! Just pick it up.
When are strawberries ready to pick
How to tell when your strawberries are ripe is when they are bright red. Harvesting strawberries too soon will give you a sour and tasteless experience. If you wait until they are soft and bright red, you will get a strawberry flavor unparalleled to anything you’ve ever eaten. It’s worth the wait!
To harvest strawberries, just hold on to the plant with one hand and grab slip the strawberry between your first finger and middle finger, and slide your hand down the stem. It will pop right off.
When are carrots ready to pick and radishes
Radishes and carrots are ripe and ready to harvest when their “shoulders” peek up above the soil. You will see the color and the veggie will be about a half inch up out of the top of the soil. Then they are ready to harvest. Just grab onto all of the leaves on the top as close to the soil line as you can get and pull straight up.
If it gets too hot and they send up a shoot that flowers, they become woody and not very pleasing to eat.
When is okra ready to pick in the garden
Okra is ripe for harvest as soon as it forms a pod. You cannot pick the okra too early, but you can wait too long to harvest it. If you allow the pods to get over 4 or so inches long, it will be inedible. Make sure to keep an eye on your okra every day once it begins flowering because they get big before you know it! When you are slicing it to cook it, if it doesn’t give easily to your knife, no matter how you cook it, it won’t be good. Just compost it and move on.
To harvest okra, just bend the pod down toward the stem and it will snap right off. Click here to read more about growing and preparing okra.
When are peppers ready to pick
Peppers are ready to harvest at any time. You can wait for them to turn colors, but you don’t have to. Red, yellow and orange bell peppers are actually green bell peppers that are further ripened. Jalapenos turn red if left on the plant longer. They are good at all stages.
To harvest peppers, just gently pull and the stem will break right above the pepper. You can be overrun with peppers from your garden, if you get to many, check out how to use excess peppers here.
When are beans ready to pick
Harvesting methods for beans depend on what type of bean you want. Green beans, when left on the vine too long, become drying beans such as pinto beans. You can eat pinto bean pods just like you eat regular green beans.
If harvesting green beans, pick them when they are still nice and bright green, when they are still smooth, and before they start looking bumpy. Those bumps are the drying beans inside.
If harvesting drying beans, just let the pods ripen and dry right on the vines. You can harvest drying beans all at once and pull the whole plant if you’d like at the end of the season. I like to pull them all and leave them in a bucket in the pantry until I’m ready to “pop” them. Click here to learn more about popping beans.
To harvest your beans, hold onto the vine so you don’t break it and then pull the bean off gently with your other hand. They snap right off.
For more on how to use excess green beans, click here.
When are cucumbers ready to pick
Cucumbers are ready to harvest when they are as big as you’d like to eat them. If you let them get too big, the seeds inside are less palatable, but they can still be eaten. If they turn yellow, they will be very bitter and unpleasant. Time for the compost.
To harvest cucumbers, just give them a little twist and they usually break off the vine easily.
How to tell when your spaghetti squash is ripe (and other squashes)
Winter squash, pumpkins and summer squash harvesting methods are about the same. Harvest summer squash at any time, but don’t wait for them to get too big. If you miss one and you end up with a baseball bat, it’s still edible, as long as it’s still a good color. If a zucchini turns yellow, it probably won’t taste very good, etc.
Harvest winter squash and pumpkins when they turn a bright color. Pumpkins start out green and ripen to their iconic orange color or whatever color of pumpkins you planted. Butternut squash lose all of their green color and are completely brown when they are ripe. Acorn squash are green when ripe. Spaghetti squash will be bright yellow when completely ripe.
To harvest squashes, it’s best to cut them with a knife or sharp scissors an inch or two from the vegetable. It’s really hard to pick them without something to cut with. Their vines are very tough and woody.
When are peas ready to pick
It’s so much fun to harvest vegetables in the garden and peas are my all-time favorites. I love the sweet little jewels of yumminess. We usually have very few make it into the house.
You can tell when peas are ready to harvest because their pod will become fat, full and bumpy. You don’t want to allow the pods to turn brown. The peas inside are better for planting next year as they will be dry and hard. If you harvest them too early though, there will be nothing in the pod to eat, so try to hit it just at the right time.
You harvest peas just like you harvest green beans. Hold onto the vine making sure you don’t break it and grab the pea with your other hand and tug.
When is lettuce ready to pick in the garden
Lettuce is ready to harvest when it forms a leaf. You can eat the tiny leaves or wait until they grow bigger and get more food from your plant.
Harvest lettuce by cutting the head or leaf about 2 inches from the ground with scissors. The lettuce will regrow and form another head or leaf. Once lettuce forms seed heads and sends up a flower, it becomes bitter. The heat will cause this bolting to occur.
When is spinach and other greens ready to pick in the garden
When you harvest vegetables in the garden such as spinach and other greens, they are ready whenever you see leaves appear. Like lettuce, you can harvest small or large leaves. This is true for kale, swiss chard, spinach and some other greens.
Harvest greens with scissors like you would lettuce.
When are potatoes ready to pick
Potatoes are ready for harvest after the greens flower and then start to turn yellow. Potatoes will not continue to grow in the heat once it gets past 85-degree soil temperature.
To harvest potatoes, dig small areas of soil with a potato fork (looks like a pitchfork, but the tines are not sharp). Turn the soil over and sift through it with your hands to get the potatoes.
If you get a freeze and the greens of your potatoes die back, they will grow right back, don’t give up on harvesting potatoes. Click here for more about growing potatoes.
When to harvest vegetables in the garden
It’s easy to learn what harvesting methods for each fruit and vegetable in the garden once you have done it a few times. I still forget sometimes and have to think about it too. When you harvest vegetables in the garden (and fruit) you won’t want to eat produce from the store anymore. It’s so satisfying to grow your own food!
What tips do you have for harvesting vegetables in the garden (and fruit)?
Click here for help with getting your kids to eat healthy foods you grow!
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