Let the season’s harvest roll!

By Lynette L. Walther | Aug 19, 2020
Photo by: Lynette L. Walther Harvest cucumbers when they are bright green and still a bit bumpy.

So, this is it. This is what we’ve been planning for, planting for, working for and dreaming of for months, maybe for an entire year — harvest season.

But this year is a little different. For reasons known all too well to all of us, this year has more folks staying at home. As a result of that, a lot of them have planted their very first gardens.

Their numbers are staggering, and quite naturally they are hungry for advice. They’ve been feeding off advice from seasoned gardeners, and in articles like this. Many have been pleasantly surprised with how successful their first gardens are. Now they are on to the next phase.

While old hands know exactly when to pull that tomato off the vine or pick those pole beans — many novice gardeners are stumped. Like deer in the headlights of the vegetable kingdom, they aren’t sure of how to proceed. Too soon? Too late? Now what?

I’ve seen queries online in chat groups where a new gardener posts a photo of a Goodyear-blimp-sized yellow cucumber and asks: “Is it time to harvest this yet?”

See what I mean?

While the following suggestions from the National Garden Bureau on harvesting techniques and timing for some of the most commonly-grown vegetables are aimed at those gardening newbies, they are a good review for us all.

1. For the best tomato flavor, allow the fruit to fully ripen on the plant. Wait until it is deep red, yellow or whatever final color the tomato is to be because once it is removed from the vine, the supply of sugars is cut off.

To harvest, gently twist the fruit so that the stem separates from the vine. Tomatoes are best kept at room temperature and will store on a kitchen counter for several days. At the end of the season when frost is predicted, green tomatoes can be harvested and placed on a windowsill or counter. Most will gradually turn red and have some degree of tomato flavor. Placing unripe tomatoes in a paper bag will hasten the ripening process.

2. Sweet peppers can be harvested at any stage of maturity. Less mature green peppers will generally be green or pale yellow, smaller, crunchy and have thin walls and a slightly tart flavor. A benefit of harvesting early is that it triggers the plants to produce more fruit. Mature peppers will change color, have thicker walls and a mild sweet flavor.

No matter the stage of harvest cut the peppers from the plant with clean pruners or kitchen shears to avoid damaging the plant.

3. One of the easiest ways to tell if a watermelon is mature is by looking at the small leaf (pig’s ear) next to the curly tendril at the stem end of a watermelon. If the pig’s ear and tail are dry or almost dry, the watermelon is ready to eat.

4. Pick green beans every other day (when they have reached the size you like) so that the plants will continue to flower and produce more.

5. To harvest the corn, grab the ear and twist with a downward motion. Some stalks may grow a second ear of corn and will be ready for picking at a later date.

6. Cut broccoli heads when they “look like broccoli,” even though those heads might be significantly smaller than the ones you find in the supermarket. (Another broccoli fun fact: most plants will continue to produce side shoots of tiny heads all summer. Pick these before they go to flower and you’ll have enough small, tender broccoli for salads, omelets, and pasta dishes into the fall.)

7. Harvest leaves of kale throughout the season, from the time the leaves are about six inches long, being careful to only pick a couple leaves from each plant.

8. Cucumbers almost seem to grow like magic — being the size of your pinkie finger one day and the next they are ready! And they hide in plain sight. Examine plants closely daily, and depending on varieties, harvest while they are still bumpy, just before cucumbers get smooth and plump for those with the most tender skins. Even if you’ve overlooked one or two and let them get too big, go ahead and pick, peel and remove seeds and they should be good for eating.

9. Zucchini is another speedball vegetable that if ignored, can achieve monumental size in no time flat. Pick when zucchini are about eight to 10 inches long.

10. If you have not already dug your garlic (which was planted last October) — get digging. Leave the foliage on the bulbs, rinse quickly and then spread on a screen or “rack” by trapping the bulbs by their necks between two rods tied together and hang until foliage is completely dry. This cures the hardneck garlic for longterm storage. Save your largest bulbs to use for “seed” to plant in October.

Lynette L. Walther is the GardenComm Gold medal winner for writing and a five-time recipient of the GardenComm Silver Medal of Achievement and the National Garden Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award. Her gardens are in Camden.

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