Vegetable Picking Tips


After having successfully grown your vegetable garden to the point of producing a harvest, how do you know when is the best time to pick your vegetables?

Here are picking tips for many common vegetables:



Snap beans are best when the pods are firm and snap readily, but before the seeds within the pod develop. The tips should be pliable.


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.


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 and “ricey.” 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.


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.


Pull up the bulbs when the tops start to yellow and dry. Place the bulbs on screens to dry. When dry, trim the roots out close to the bulb, remove the loose outer sheaths, and store under cool, dry conditions.


Beans are a warm weather crop, and can not tolerate any frost nor cold soil. In the U.S. green beans typically peak during July through October in the South, and in August and September in the North. But they can be ready as early as early June in many places, as they only take 45 to 60 days from the time the seed is planted!


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.


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.


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, when they will be mellower and sweeter. Hot peppers, except Jalapeño (which remains green when ripe), are usually harvested at the red ripe stage.


“New” potatoes can be dug before the vines die. For large potatoes, wait until the vines die. Use a spading fork. Dig 4 to 6 inches beneath the soil surface. Handle the tubers gently during harvest to avoid bruising.


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°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. Scallop squash are best while small, 3 to 4 inches in diameter and a grayish or greenish-white in color. Squash grow 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°F.


Harvest in the fall before frost kills the vine. Handle carefully when digging to avoid bruises. After digging, let the roots lie exposed for 2 or 3 hours to dry thoroughly, then put them in a warm room at 85°F. to cure for about 10 days. Store at 50° to 55°F and 85 percent humidity.


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 sunlight 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.

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Have some of your own tips for harvesting? Leave a comment…

One Comment

  1. Love this! Going to print this out and post at the community garden!

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