When to Harvest Vegetables

When you harvest your vegetables is just as important as planting techniques and garden care. And often, the difference between flavorful produce and a lackluster harvest is result of what happens during the gathering stage of gardening.

Make sure your hard work pays off so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor by following these tips for a successful harvest.

  • Always pick vegetables as soon as they ripen. This effectively encourages the plant to bear more fruit. Not sure when a veggie is ripe? One quick tip is that most vegetables reach their peak ripeness when they are relatively small.
     
  • Always harvest your vegetables in the cool early morning. Picking should be done before midday, as heat causes much of the plant's moisture to evaporate. This rule is especially important for leafy greens, which become limp and wilted if harvested too late in the day.  An early morning harvest will ensure that your vegetables stay crisp and store longer. Other fruiting vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers and zucchini, as well as root vegetables are less sensitive to wilting, so they can be picked in the evening if needed.
     
  • Always pay attention to each vegetable's specific growth cycle. When and how to harvest your vegetables can often depend on the plant. Consider these harvesting tips for popular garden vegetables to help you pick produce at the right time.
    • Tomatoes: Allow tomatoes to ripen on the vine for as long as possible. Tomatoes should be fully red in color before harvest, regardless of size. Another helpful tip: pick your tomatoes before the end softens.
       
    • Squash: While squash can grow up to 10 inches, it should be harvested much sooner ' at around four or six inches. Harvesting young squash helps ensure tenderness and flavor.
       
    • Peppers: Leave sweet peppers on the plant until the fruits are firm, full-sized and a red color is achieved (if red color is desired). For hot peppers, spiciness is determined by growth maturity. For intense spice and flavor, harvest early; if you desire a milder taste, wait until peppers are fully mature and colored.