Harvesting Your Garden Bounty For Peak Flavor
Oct 10th, 2011 | By Esther |
You’ve planted your garden, tended the seedlings, defended the plants from pests, and now you have a garden full of bounty. Now you need to learn how to harvest and store what you’ve grown. Each vegetable grows at its own rate and has its own harvest time. Let’s go through the basics of how to harvest and store common garden vegetables.
The best way to test for maturity is to taste test, but there are a few easy guidelines for judging when vegetables are ready for picking without eating all of them. Great flavor isn’t just a matter of color and size—it is the proper combination of soil, sun, and water that makes or breaks your garden’s performance. To assure the best flavor and texture, most vegetables are picked just prior to maturity.
Note: Some vegetables need to be harvested before first frost. Others may need freezing temperatures to complete the ripening process.
Use the following guidelines set forth to judge if your garden is harvest-ready.
©2011 Off the Grid News
James C. Schmidt
One of the most important phases of vegetable gardening involves knowing when to harvest the produce. The quality of vegetables does not improve after harvest so it is important to gather the crops at the proper maturity when they are at their peak for flavor and nutrition. Garden produce picked too soon is too tender, and lacks substance and flavor. Picked too late, it is likely to be tough, fibrous or mushy, and also lacking in taste.
The time for harvesting varies with climate, the particular season, the variety, and the vegetables involved. For instance, tomatoes can be left on the vine until fully ripened or taken off when partially ripened. Other crops such as winter squash and watermelon are not ready until after they are fully developed.
The ''days to maturity'' listings on seed packets and in gardening books and seed catalogs are helpful. But many variables involving these figures are given in general terms, so the numbers should be used only as guidelines. Some suggestions for harvesting common vegetables at the time they provide the most delicious eating follow.
Check the garden frequently for ripe produce during harvest time. Vegetables continue to grow. Before long, they may be overgrown. When harvesting, avoid bruising or damaging the vegetables which causes decay.
Asparagus can be harvested the third year after planting crowns, but do not harvest for more than one month the first time. In the following years, the spears may be harvested in May and June. Harvest spears 5 to 8 inches tall by cutting them or snapping them off. Cutting may damage some spear tips that have not yet emerged from the ground. To snap a spear, bend it from the top toward the ground. Asparagus deteriorates rapidly after harvest. If it is not eaten immediately, it should be processed or refrigerated.
Harvest beets when they are 1 1/4 to 2 inches in diameter. The beet tops can also be eaten as greens. The leaves should be 4 to 6 inches long.
Cut broccoli when the buds are compact but before they turn yellow or open into flowers. Leave 5 to 6 inches of stem attached. Side shoots that develop in the axils of the leaves can also be used.
The small sprouts may be picked or cut when they are firm and about 1 inch in diameter. Pick the lower sprouts as soon as they are large enough for use. Lower leaves may be removed to allow more room for sprouts to develop.
Cut the heads when they are solid, but before they crack or split. In addition to harvesting the mature heads, you can harvest a later crop of small heads or sprouts that develop on the stumps of the cut stems. The sprouts will be 2 to 4 inches in diameter and should be picked when they are firm.
Carrots are ready for use when they are young, crisp, and 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter. The sugar content is higher in mature carrots, but the younger ones are more tender. Carrots planted in the summer may be left in the ground until a killing frost. A straw mulch can be placed over the row so that the carrots can be harvested until the ground freezes solid.
Harvest before the heads become over mature.' The heads should be compact, firm, and white. To keep the head white, tie the outer leaves together over the center of the plant when the head begins to form. Cauliflower will grow 6 to 8 inches in diameter and is ready for harvest 7 to 12 days after blanching.
Use the leaves as they become 8 to 10 inches long while they are still young and tender. New leaves will continue to grow from the center of the plant.
Pick corn when the silk turns dark and starts to shrivel. The kernels should be bright, plump, and milky. This stage occurs about 20 days after the appearance of the first silk strands. To harvest, snap off the ears by hand with a quick, firm, downward push; then twist and pull. Corn is at its prime eating quality for only 72 hours before becoming over mature.
Cucumbers may be picked when they are 2 inches long or less for pickles, 4 to 6 inches for dills, and 6 to 8 inches for slicing varieties. A cucumber is at its highest quality when it is uniformly dark green, firm, and crisp. Cucumbers are past their prime if they are large, dull, puffy, and yellow. Remove old fruits from the vine so that young fruits will develop.
Harvest eggplant when the fruits are 6 to 8 inches long, glossy, and have a uniformly deep color. The fruits are over mature when they become dull, soft, and seedy. Use a knife or pruning shears to cut the fruit off the plant. Leave the green calyx attached to the fruit.
Break off the outer leaves as they become 8 to 10 inches long. New leaves will continue to grow from the center of each plant.
Harvest in late summer and fall by loosening the soil with a spading fork and pulling out the plant. Cut off the roots and all but 2 inches of the green leaves.
Leaf lettuce reaches maximum size in 50 to 60 days. Cut or pull the outer leaves (4 to 6 inches long) as you can use them. Butterhead varieties form small, loose heads that are ready in 60 to 70 days.
They develop their best flavor when they ripen in warm, dry weather. As the melon ripens, the stem separates readily from the fruit. After harvesting, the fruit can be held at room temperature for 1 to 3 days until the blossom end softens.
The okra pods should be harvested while they are immature and still tender (2 to 3 inches long). The large pods become tough and woody. The pods must be picked at least every other day if you want the plants to remain productive.
Green onions may be harvested when the tops are 6 inches high and the stem is the thickness of a pencil. Harvest dry onions in late July or early August after most of the tops have fallen down. Allow the bulbs to air dry for a day or two after digging. Then they can be stored in a dry shelter on slats or screens, or hung in small bunches. Complete drying or curing takes 2 to 3 weeks. After curing, the tops should be cut 1 1/2 to 2 inches long. Place the bulbs in dry storage with good air circulation.
Pick them when the pod is full and green and the peas are still tender and sweet. Test for maturity frequently by picking a couple of pods and examining them for firmness. Harvest the Chinese and snow peas, which are eaten pod and all, when the pods are 1 1/2 to 2 inches long and the peas are about the size of BB's. The pods are usually picked 5 to 7 days after flowering.
Fruits may be harvested at any size, but they are usually picked when they are full grown and mature. They may be left on the plant to ripen fully to a red or yellow color, in which case they will be mellower and sweeter. Hot peppers, except Jalapeno (which remains green when ripe), are usually harvested at the red ripe stage.
Allow them to ripen fully on the vine, but pick them before the first heavy freeze. The fruit should have a deep)solid color and a hard rind. Cut pumpkins from the vine, leaving 3 to 4 inches of the stem attached. Pumpkins without stems do not store well. Store in a cool, dry area (50 to 55 degrees F).
For the best flavor, start thinning and eating radishes when they are the size of marbles. They will be good up to 1 inch in diameter. After that, they may become hot and pithy.
Spinach may be harvested from the time the plants have 6 to 8 leaves until the seed stalk develops. For the best quality, cut while young. Cut the entire plant off at the soil surface.
Summer squash should be harvested while still young and tender - 6 to 8 inches in length and 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Squash grown rapidly and are usually ready to pick 4 to 8 days after flowering. Harvest winter squash when the vines have died back and the fruit has a hard ring, but before a heavy frost. Cut squash from the vines carefully, leaving 2 inches of stem attached. Avoid cuts and bruises. Store in a dry location at 50 to 55 degrees F.
During hot summer weather, pick the tomatoes when they have a healthy pink color and let them ripen indoors. Tomatoes do not need to be in the sun in order to ripen. If you have green fruit on the plants in the fall when frost is approaching, pick the tomatoes and store them in a cool, dark place to ripen.
Harvest when the roots are 2 to 3 inches in diameter. The tops can be used for greens when they are 4 to 6 inches long. Turnips can be left in the ground after a heavy freeze and mulched with straw for harvest during the early winter.
Use a combination of the following indicators to determine when watermelons are ripe; (1) light green, and when the curled tendril near the stem begins to shrivel and dry up; (2) the surface color of the fruit turns dull; (3) the skin is rough and resists penetration by a thumbnail; and (4) the bottom of a melon where it touches the ground turns from a light green to a yellowish color. Watermelons will not continue to ripen after harvest.