The Gardener’s Guide to Vegetable Harvesting
Harvesting the fruits of your labour is what makes gardening such a great hobby. Healthy, delicious, homegrown produce is an amazing reward for all your hard work. With this year’s delayed growing season, you may be counting the days until harvest, but that’s not really necessary. Your garden is full of clues that will let you know when to harvest!
There are some harvesting basics that are good to know. Picking crops in the early morning is ideal—they will be cool and full of moisture, which helps them keep longer. It’s also important to keep an eye on plants that have started to produce—picking often can encourage more crops to grow, and you won’t miss ripe produce that’s ready for picking.
Tomatoes will let you know when they’re ready—firm but slightly soft texture and deep colours are the key things to look for. Tomatoes can crack due to sudden changes in water uptake by the plant. Adding calcium to your soil helps to avoid this. You can find it in Nature’s CareBone Meal, or Miracle-Gro Shake ’N Feed Tomato Vegetable and Herb Plant Food with Calcium. Tomatoes can also be ripened off the vine: mature green tomatoes will have a slightly firmer texture and can be kept in a cool, dry place to finish ripening
Peppers are much like tomatoes. When they get a first blush of colour, they can be picked, but they’ll offer the best flavour if left on the vine. Both hot and bell peppers can be harvested green and allowed to ripen in a cool place. Hot peppers should be left on the vine as long as possible—you’ll know they’re ready by their deepening colour.
Cucumbers and zucchini are ready for harvesting when they’re around 5 centimetres in diameter and 17 centimetres long. Cucumbers will develop smooth and deep green skin, though young cucumbers can be picked for pickling while still small and bumpy. With cucumbers and zucchini, picking earlier is always better, as once they begin to develop seeds they will become bitter. Harvesting will also encourage more to grow.
Leafy greens can be plucked while immature as long as the central growing leaves remain. When spinach plants reach 15 centimetres, they can be cut to 2.5 centimetres and left to regrow. Chard leaves should be cut when the plant reaches 12 centimetres and can be cut again when they regrow to 15-24 centimetres. Kale can be harvested when leaves are the size of your hand.
Cabbage should be harvested when the heads have become solid—their size will depend on the variety and growing conditions. Broccoli should be harvested when the buds of the head are firm and tight—if any begin to flower, harvest immediately. Cauliflower should be harvested when its heads are compact, white, and firm—ideally around 16-20 centimetres in diameter.
Your garden provides its own clues for harvesting. A savvy gardener will keep an eye out for signs like deeper colours, perfect textures, and size cues. You don’t need to be a detective, either. It’s just matter of paying attention and making sure you use your senses, so you never miss the fruits (or veggies) of your labours.