In my opinion, the best part of growing edibles is reaping the rewards of your labors at harvest time. With a garden full of different fruits, vegetables, and herbs, it can be hard to know when to harvest what.
Most seed packets have the days to maturity printed on the package. Counting days will provide you with a general guide as to what to expect as far as harvesting goes, but with differing environmental conditions, it is not the most consistent method to use when trying to tell when things are ready for picking.
A better way to guarantee maximum quality produce is to look for signs specific to the plant you are harvesting. Choosing when to harvest is usually a balance between allowing enough time for larger yields, and getting the best freshness and flavor. Here are some things to look for on some common vegetable garden plants:
- Leaf lettuce can be harvested while young and tender, or midsized. If you harvest leafy greens too large, they will be bitter. Head lettuces and cabbage can be harvested once the head is developed and firm.
- Tomatoes should be harvested when they reach full color (depends on variety), unless you desire green tomatoes for cooking. You can also pick them when they are just starting to show color and ripen them indoors.
- Peppers should be harvested when they reach the desired size. For bigger peppers, leave the early ones on the plant, and harvest the later growing peppers while smaller. Similarly, if you want a red pepper instead of a green one, let it mature longer.
- Summer squash should be picked when the size is typical for the variety, and the skin is tender. Winter squash should have a harder skin that is not easily pierced by your fingernail.
- If you desire new potatoes for cooking, they can be harvested any time. For full sized potatoes, harvest once the vines die down, and store in a cool, dark place.
- Harvest onions once the tops fall down. Once you pull your onions you will want to store them in a mesh bag until the necks have dried out, and then store them similarly to how you would store potatoes.
- For optimal flavor, herbs should be harvested before they begin to flower. You can begin harvesting once the plant has enough foliage to maintain growth. It is best to harvest early in the day before it gets too hot, but wait for any morning dew to evaporate.