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Harvesting Vegetables

Whether you’re an old hand or brand new to vegetable gardening, at times it can be difficult to know exactly when and how to harvest your vegetables. Learn more about the importance of timing when harvesting your vegetables.

Carolyn Plank, Master Gardener

Harvesting Vegetables

Most seed packets and seed catalogs contain information on how many days it will take for your vegetable seeds to grow to maturity. However, they are not always reliable when trying to calculate precise harvest dates. Factors that can influence harvest dates include soil quality, precipitation, temperature and ventilation. Also, days to maturity may differ from year to year. This year is a good example of how maturity dates may be different than normal. We had a hot early spring then cool temperatures. Now, we are in a drought situation which stresses the vegetables and requires daily watering. These weather variations can affect the maturity date of your vegetables.

Home gardeners do have an advantage over commercially grown vegetables. Commercial vegetables are often picked prior to their peak quality. Home gardeners can harvest vegetables closer to their peak time since it’s best to allow vegetables to ripen on the plant. However, remember that bigger is not always better when harvesting. Leaving certain crops on the plant too long can render them inedible. A gardener needs to be aware of any subtle clues indicating when a vegetable is ripe for the picking.

The best time to harvest vegetables is early in the morning. Vegetables regain moisture overnight which makes the vegetables crisper, juicier and sweeter. If you are unable to harvest in the morning, keep your produce out of direct sunlight and cool as soon as possible. Quality is highest at the time of harvest and decreases rapidly from then. Pick at peak maturity, handle vegetables properly and store under optimum conditions.

Always be gentle when harvesting vegetables. If they are not easily removed you can use a knife, hand pruner or scissors which prevents tearing or breaking. Be careful not to step on stems or plant foliage. Frequent picking is essential for prolonging the harvest.

Whatever vegetables you choose, have fun and happy harvesting!

To find more information about harvesting specific vegetables, visit:

Photo credits: Robert Hatlevig (1), Cory Tanner @2010 Clemson Extension (2, 3)

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