Why is it the first vegetables of the season seem to taste better than those picked later? Perhaps mid-season produce has remained on the vine or plant too long.

Consider this: We wait for that first picking of our favorite vegetable. We do a visual check every day, waiting and hoping for it to grow to a useable size. Then we pick that first meal and it exceeds our expectations. Of course our anticipation — even excitement plays a role in this — but truly, first-picked veggies do taste as good as it gets.

Then, after that first flush of excitement, we let the rest of the produce sit, unpicked, to grow larger and larger. Maybe we are too busy to keep things picked, or maybe we just let other things get in the way. No matter why, if not picked regularly, our produce gets away from us.

But it needn’t be that way. By picking frequently, at a set time, our crops cannot grow too large or too tough or too full of seeds. Instead, a well-picked vegetable plant just keeps producing more fruit.

Early morning

It’s not hard to set up a schedule for garden work. I like to visit my garden early in the morning, before the blazing sun wilts leaves and dries out the ground. This is the best time to water, since the still-cool ground will readily absorb the water, whereas watering in midday is ineffective because much of the water evaporates and doesn’t reach down to the roots. And late afternoon watering keeps crops damp all night, inviting fungus and mold.

I incorporate harvesting whatever is ripe into my early morning watering. However, harvesting should come first, because handling some plants when wet can cause dieoff. As soon as everything is picked, it’s time to give your plants a good soaking. If your plants are wet with dew, it’s best to wait until they dry before harvesting.

And that’s it. You can now go about the rest of your day. Keeping your vegetables picked and not allowing them to fully mature will result in finer-quality produce.

Some people don’t harvest regularly because they lack time to freeze or can the surplus. That’s a valid point, but remember this: Most garden vegetables will keep some time in the refrigerator. Also, morning-picked produce is of a far higher quality than that picked during the heat of the day. The sun dries out the produce and robs it of moisture, while that picked in the morning has a higher moisture content and, consequently, will stay fresh longer.

Prime candidates

Some prime candidates for frequent harvesting are cucumbers, summer squash and green and wax beans. All these are of a higher quality when young than when left to mature. Cucumbers, for example, are less bitter when young. Most seed packages and catalogues have guidelines for best size to begin harvesting.

Summer squash, especially, should be harvested as often as possible. It’s tempting to think, when there are only a few squash on the vines, to wait for them to get larger. But that’s not necessary, since once a summer squash plant begins producing, it will keep on producing as long as they are kept picked. If you stop picking, the plant will slow down on making more produce and concentrate on growing bigger, seed-filled specimens. Keep them picked and you can have summer squash until frost kills the vines.

Never allow green beans to grow much longer than these. Photo by Tom Seymour

Ditto for beans. Green beans and wax beans benefit from regular picking. If you can’t put your beans up right away, they will keep in the fridge for a fairly long time. Also, with all the shortages nowadays, you could donate some of your produce to local churches and food pantries.

With beans, there is an exception to this rule. I often leave some beans on the vine until fall, when the pods dry. Then it’s time to pick the seeds and use them as shell beans — a New England favorite.

So do try to set up a routine and keep your veggies well-picked. And even if you must pick in midday, that’s better than allowing them to grow too large.

Tom Seymour, of Frankfort, is a homeowner, gardener, forager, naturalist, registered Maine Guide, amateur astronomer, magazine and newspaper columnist, and book author.