Timing is Critical to Harvest Vegetables at their Peak - Indiana Yard and Garden - Purdue Consumer Horticulture

Timing is Critical to Harvest Vegetables at their Peak

Nothing beats vegetables picked fresh from the garden! But to ensure the best quality, flavor and appearance, proper harvesting at the right stage is essential. Once you harvest, proper storage will help maintain that home-grown freshness.

It helps to group vegetables by similarity of storage requirements:

Cold And Moist (32-40 F, 90-95 percent relative humidity)

Beets-Begin harvest when beet is 1 inch in diameter. Beet tops at this time make excellent tender greens. Begin main harvest when beets are 2&endash;3 inches. Harvest spring-planted beets before hot weather (July). Harvest fall beets before the first moderate freeze.

Carrots-Harvest spring carrots before hot weather (July). Fall-planted carrots should be harvested before the first moderate freeze.

Potato, Irish-Harvest when the tops have yellowed and/or died. Do not leave in the ground because high soil temperatures will accelerate overripening. Cure for about a week in a shaded, well-ventilated place (open barn, shed, garage). Remove excess soil from potatoes and discard those that are diseased or damaged. Avoid exposing tubers to light; they will turn green with even a small amount of light. Store in as cool a place as possible above 40 F. Ideal storage conditions are hard to find in late summer, but cool basements are probably the best storage available. Keep humidity high and provide good ventilation.

Turnips-Turnips can be harvested from the time they are 1 inch in diameter. They are best as a fall crop and can withstand several light freezes.

Broccoli-Harvest terminal head while florets are still tight and of good green-blue color. Smaller size heads will develop from side shoots.

Brussels Sprouts-Harvest the sprouts (small heads) when they are firm. Beginning from the bottom of the plant, cut or break sprouts from the leaf axil (where it meets the stem). Sprouts can withstand several moderate freezes. Harvest all sprouts prior to the first severe freeze. Sprouts are best grown for a fall harvest.

Cabbage-Harvest when heads are solid.

Cauliflower-To keep heads white, tie outer leaves above the head when curds are about 1&endash;2 inches in diameter (except purple types). Heads will be ready for harvest in about two weeks.

Muskmelon (Cantaloupe)-Harvest when the stem slips easily from the fruit. Lift the melon; if ripe, it should separate easily.

Squash, Summer-Harvest when the fruit is small (6&endash;8 inches long or 3&endash;4 inches across for round types), young and tender. Skin should be penetrated easily with the thumbnail.

Sweet Corn-Harvest sweet corn when kernels are plump and tender. Silks will be dry and kernels filled. Check a few ears for maturity by opening the top of ear and pressing a few kernels with your thumbnail. If milky juice exudes, it is ready for harvest.

Cool and Moist Storage (45-50 F, 80-90 percent relative humidity)

Cucumber-Harvest cucumbers before seeds become half size. This will vary with cultivar. Most cultivars will be 1 1/2&endash;2 1/2 inches in diameter and 5&endash;8 inches long. Pickling cucumbers will be a bit more blocky and not as long as slicers.

Eggplant-Harvest when fruits are nearly full grown, but color is still bright. Eggplants are not adapted to long storage.

Beans, Green-Bean pods will be the most tender when the small seed inside is one-fourth mature size. From this stage, the pods become more fibrous as the beans mature.

Okra-Harvest okra pods when they are 2&endash;3 inches long. Overmature pods are woody.

Peppers, Sweet-Harvest when fruits are firm and full size. If red (yellow or orange for some varieties) fruits are desired, leave on plant until color develops.

Tomatoes-Ripe tomatoes will keep for a week in the refrigerator or at 45&endash;50 F. Green mature tomatoes, harvested before frost, should be kept at a temperature between 55&endash;70 F. For faster ripening, raise temperature to 65&endash;70 F. Mature green tomatoes are about normal size and have a whitish-green skin color. Mature green tomatoes can be kept three to five weeks by wrapping each tomato in newspaper and inspecting it for ripeness each week. A cellar where temperatures are 55&endash;58 F is satisfactory for holding mature green tomatoes.

Watermelon-Harvest when underside of fruit turns from whitish to yellowish. The tendril at the juncture of the fruit stem and the vine usually dies when the fruit is mature. Thumping an immature melon gives a ringing, metallic sound while a mature melon gives a dull thud.

Cool, Dry (45-55 F, 50-60 percent relative humidity)

Onions, Dry-Harvest onions when two-thirds to three-fourths of the tops have fallen over and the necks have shriveled. Remove tops, place in shallow boxes or mesh bags, and cure in open garage or barn for three to four weeks. Store in mesh bags in as cool a place as can be found at harvest time. During humid (muggy) weather, keep ventilated.

Peppers, Hot-Pull plants late in the season or string peppers together and hang to dry.

Warm, Dry (55-60 F, 60-70 percent relative humidity)

Pumpkins and Winter Squash-Harvest pumpkins and winter squash when the skins are hard and the colors darken. Both should be harvested before frost. Remove the fruit from the vine, leaving a portion of the stem attached.

Warm, Moist (55-60 F, 80-85 percent relative humidity)

Sweet Potatoes-Harvest in the fall before frost and freezing temperatures. Handle carefully in the digging process. Cure for one week at a temperature of 80&endash;85 F before storing.


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