When to harvest your garden

Know when your vegetables are at the peak of perfection and are ready to be picked.

Planting a vegetable garden and tending the plants has been an experience for many new gardeners. But through all the hot weather and lack of rainfall, those gardeners have been keeping their eyes on the prize. And that prize is being invited to dinner.

But for many new gardeners, knowing when to pick the vegetables at the peak of perfection may be a bit unclear. Pick too late and the produce could taste like damp cardboard. Most gardeners have no trouble identifying a ripe tomato. But what about picking muskmelons or sweet corn? And keep in mind that some harvesting techniques allow for a second harvest or several subsequent harvests.


Pick when the broccoli head is firm and tight and no yellow flowers are seen. After removing the good-sized head of broccoli from the top of the plant, do not remove the plant. Small heads will grow from the areas where leaves meet the stems. They may be smaller, but it’s still good eating.


Look at the top of the carrot root protruding from the ground. If it appears to be a decent size, pull one to see. If that carrot is big enough, remove other carrots from the row that are that size or bigger. Leave the babies to pick up more size.

Green beans

This is a matter of personal taste. Many people pick their beans when they are 3 or more inches long and smooth. But if you enjoy “shelly beans,” pick when the beans inside are beginning to bulge. The outside bean covering should be green and not turning yellow. These will be cooked longer because they are not as tender.


Look for a tan skin under tan netting. You should be able to gently push on the stem next to the fruit and it comes away easily. The ground side of the fruit will be yellowish.

Summer squash

These include zucchini, crookneck and straightneck yellow squash. Pick them when the skins are glossy and tender. Use your thumbnail to press on the skin. If the skin is easily pierced, it’s dinner-ready. The mission: eat them as children; don’t wait until you can use them as dugout canoes.

Sweet corn

The silks at the top of the ear are showing brown ends. The ears will also angle slightly more away from the corn plant.

Swiss chard and leaf lettuce

Both of these can be harvested in two different ways. You can remove the plant entirely or just pick the outside circle of leaves. By picking just the outside, more leaves form in the center and you can continue to harvest over a longer period of time.


They are ready to pick when the fruit that is facing the ground is yellow-white and the stem slips easily from the top of the fruit with light thumb pressure. Thumping for a hollow sound is not always a good indicator.

Winter squash and pumpkins

These need to remain in the garden as long as possible. They require a tough rind to withstand winter storage. If the vines have died down or a frost of any magnitude is approaching, harvest now. Try not to damage the skins by piling or throwing. Clip off a length of stem to stay at the top of the fruit. Cutting or breaking flush with the top can cause early decay.

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