Hopefully you’re among the many who are experiencing a bountiful harvest from your garden and delicious fruit from your fruit trees! I think one of the true joys of summer is having a backyard garden or a few containers with some delicious homegrown produce. I love stepping out of my back door and munching on a few fresh picked pea pods or picking a handful of lettuce to have with dinner. Sadly to say, those days are coming to an end and we’ve reached the time of year when I want to get serious about harvesting and storing my produce before the garden freezes and winter becomes a reality. I guess other people are feeling this way too because I’ve been asked by a few people, how do you know when your produce is ripe for the picking? If you’re also wondering that, here are a few tips that may help you out.
A lot of knowing when to harvest for optimal flavor is just common sense, so don’t make it harder than it is. The best time to harvest is in the morning right after the dew has dissipated. That’s when your vegetables will have the highest water content. If that doesn’t work for you, pick on a cloudy day for the same reason.
When harvesting produce, be careful not to break, nick or bruise it. The less you handle your produce, the longer it will last in storage. Harvest only the highest quality vegetables for storing and preserving and don’t allow them to sit in direct sun. Rotting produce will not keep and can spread disease to other stored vegetables.
Ask most gardeners and I’m sure they’ll agree, the best way to tell when produce is ready for harvest is simple, taste test it! Even if it’s not quite ready, you probably won’t regret trying. This is good advice for apples, peaches, plums and grapes. Did you notice, I didn’t mention pears? That’s because tree ripened pears are not good eats. Pears left on trees become “gritty” or become brown and mushy on the inside. So pick your pears when they’re slightly immature. They’ll come around and ripen uniformly with a smoother flesh consistency when stored in a cool location away from direct sun.
Different varieties of apples reach their peak at different times, so watch for a change in color on the side of the apple facing the inside of the tree. Even with most red apples, when the inside changes from green to a yellowish green or cream color, they are probably ready to harvest. As I said, you will probably want to give it the taste test. When picking an apple, give it a slight twist while you gently pull it. You’ll know that an apple is ripe and ready to pick when you can lift it off the tree without pulling hard or twisting it hard. Also, if the birds start eating your fruit, they might be telling you that it’s time to harvest. When you have picked your apple, be sure to treat it gently. Don’t drop it into the bucket or sack. Ripe apples bruise easily, and bruised apples may rot.
Plums turn color early, but are not ready to pick until they become softer. I tend to eat them a little on the green side though, because I just can’t wait! If you need to pick them before they’re at their prime, they will ripen in the house if you can resist eating them.
I hope you’ve been pulling up a few carrots, beets and onions, and have been enjoying them throughout the growing season. Potatoes may be eaten any time during the growing season, but won’t keep well until they’re mature. Wait until the vines die down before you dig them for storage. If you didn’t mound the soil up a bit over your potatoes as they grew, and the top of the potato is showing and has a green color, don’t eat them.
Harvest your onions as soon as the tops fall over. This will prevent basal rot during storage. Simply remove the tops and store the onions in mesh bags until the necks have dried down. During this drying time, hang the bags outside in a protected area where they’ll get good air circulation. When the onions rustle while handling, they are ready to move into indoor, protected storage where it’s cool and dry. All of these root crops can be dug with a pitchfork. Just be sure to dig far enough from the plant to ensure you’re not piercing your produce.
Green peppers can be harvested when they appear to be full sized and firm, although harvesting a few to enjoy while you’re waiting on them certainly can’t hurt. If you want red peppers, let them stay on the vine longer. They’ll eventually turn red, if frost doesn’t hit them.
I hope you haven’t turned your back on your zucchini for a couple of days. They have a way of becoming the size of a houseboat almost overnight. If you do have a monster zucchini or two, don’t worry. They’re great to use for baking!
Green beans should be picked on a regular basis. Keeping them picked will keep them producing. Harvesting them when they are a bit immature will give you a far better quality bean. Look for a slight bulge in the bean where the seed is, but pick them before they become firm. If they get lumpy, they’ve gone too far. They should snap when bent.
Herbs will taste better if harvested before they’ve gone to seed. Don’t wash the leaves or aromatic oils will be lost. Dried herbs can be kept for two or three years but are best if you use them within a year. Any longer than this, and they won’t be as tasty or as fragrant.
If you want to use your produce for canning, freezing, or dehydrating, you’ll want it to be at its prime to ensure top quality. Over-ripe produce will not store as well and is not nearly as tasty.
I hope this information will help you enjoy the fruits of your labor. You might even enjoy it so much that you’ll want to share with a neighbor, someone in need, or display it in a bowl on the counter for quick and easy munching.
Linda Corwine McIntosh is an ISA certified arborist, licensed pesticide applicator, andColorado advanced master gardener.