If you’ve gone to the trouble of nurturing a vegetable garden, make sure to harvest it so you get the most out of your precious plants.
Growing a home garden is an excellent way to infuse healthy homegrown vegetables into your diet. The right time and methods to collect the harvest aren’t always obvious. Harvesting vegetables at the right time ensures that you’ll get maximum nutritional value and longer storage of your backyard produce. Plus, there are handy harvest tools and techniques that help keep garden plants productive and make quick work of bringing in crops during the growing season. Read on for our top veggie harvest tips.
Unlike farmers who bring in whole crops at once, backyard gardeners have the advantage of picking individual veggies when they are at the perfect stage of ripeness. Consistent harvesting keeps vegetable plants in production longer.
When the harvest season begins, plan to visit the garden at least two or three times per week to check vegetables that are ready to harvest. When you do pick, be sure to thoroughly harvest all of the ripe vegetables. Garden-ripened vegetables are highest in nutritional value, and are kitchen stable for fresh use for up to a week if properly stored. If left in the garden they begin to deteriorate in only a day or two.
Bigger Is Not Always Better
It’s fun to grow giant garden plants, but large sizes in some veggies is a sign of poor quality. Vegetables such as green beans, summer squash, cucumbers, eggplants, and okra taste best, and are more nutritious, when they are harvested before their seeds have fully developed. Leafy greens like kale, spinach, Swiss chard, and lettuce have excellent flavor and texture when they are young and tender. They become tough and bitter with size and age. Other crops, like peppers, tomatoes, and melons need to grow to their full size before becoming fully ripe.
Harvest in Cool, Dry Weather
The best time to harvest is early on a dry day. Plants rehydrate themselves overnight, and convert starches that formed during the day into sugars. Morning harvested produce is crisper, juicer, and sweeter. Handling wet plants is not only uncomfortable, but can spread disease spores from plant to plant. It is best to allow rain and dew to evaporate before working in the garden.
Related Reading: How Eggshells and Coffee Grounds Can Help Your Garden Grow
Have Handy Harvest Tools
Some ripe veggies easily pull free from their parent plant when they are ripe for harvest. Some tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers may require a set of garden shears or pruners to avoid damaging the plant. Use clean, sharp pruners or a harvest knife to cut off squash, cabbage, broccoli, sweet corn, and other thick-stemmed veggies.
Vivosun Pruning Shears with Titanium Coated Curved Precision Blades, $6.99 from Amazon
Loosen soil around carrots, onions, potatoes, turnips, and other root vegetables with a garden fork.
Ames Garden Spading Fork, $30.66 from Walmart
Suitable harvest containers come in all materials, shapes, and sizes, but your best bet is one that washes clean easily.
Hutzler Garden Colander Harvest Basket, $28.73 from Home Depot
Don’t Wash Until You’re Ready to Eat It
Washing produce right out of the garden is not necessarily helpful, and may actually cause it to have a shorter storage life. Pre-washing can increase the chance the produce will spoil prematurely due to the extra moisture on it. Fresh veggies can simply go from the garden to the house. Just make sure they are completely dry first. Simply brush off the dust and dirt, and bring them inside. Muddy root vegetables should sit in a shady location until the loose, dry soil can be brushed off. Be sure to thoroughly wash your vegetables with tap water when you prepare them to eat.
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