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Gardening column: When to harvest veggies? It’s better early than late

Commentary // Jul 8 2011

Tomatoes, peppers are easy; how about carrots, red beets?

A column by Jane Ford

Q: When is the right time to harvest the vegetables in my garden? I know about tomatoes and peppers, but what about beets, carrots and others?

A: Here is a simple little saying worth its weight in gold when raising vegetables, “Harvest early rather than late.” Here are a few suggestions that may help gardeners pondering this same question:

One benefit of harvesting many of our vegetables early is that most will continue to produce fruit if picked regularly. The main benefit is the vegetable will taste its best when picked at the right time.

♦Harvest spring-planted beets before hot weather (July) when they are 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Plant fall beets in August for harvest before freezing weather.

♦Spring-planted carrots should be harvested by July, then the fall planting harvested before first freeze.

♦Harvest potatoes when the tops turn yellow and die back. Don’t leave them in the ground when the weather is warm, as that tends to overripen them. Also, after digging them, let them thoroughly dry and cure for a week or so in a shady, well-ventilated area. Store in a cool, dark place.

♦Dig sweet potatoes when the tops die back before frost and freezing weather sets in.

♦Broccoli is best picked when florets are tight and dark green. The plant will continue to make smaller side shoots or heads.

♦Cauliflower heads should be covered by the outer leaves when the head begins to form. About two weeks from that time, they should be ready to harvest. Don’t cover if you have planted purple cauliflower or the self-bleaching type.

♦Harvest all types of cabbage for best flavor when the heads feel solid.

♦Harvest cantaloupe when the stem slips easily from the head when lifted.

♦Summer squash should be picked when the fruit is small and the skin easily penetrated by your thumbnail.

♦Cucumbers should be picked when they are dark green and have smallish seeds (cucumber is about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and, according to the type you planted, 5 to 8 inches long).

♦Hot peppers can be pulled up, plants and all, late in the season and hung to dry.

♦Pumpkins and winter squash should be picked before frost. Cut high on the vine and leave some of the vine attached.

♦If possible, leave tomatoes on the vine to ripen, although they can be picked and will continue to ripen once the skin begins to turn color. The plants can be pulled before frost and hung upside-down so tomatoes will continue to ripen on the vine. Green tomatoes can be picked and put in a brown paper bag, and they will ripen.

♦Sweet peppers should be picked when they are firm and full size, and the color they are supposed to be: red, yellow or green.

♦Radishes are early vegetables and, when the nights and days are hot, will become hot, tough and peppery tasting. Pull them early for best flavor.

♦Dig onions when the tops are dry and fall over and the necks have withered.

♦To tell whether some vegetables are ready for harvest, such as peas, snow peas and beans, you may need to pick and taste it. When they are just right, they will be tender and sweet. When past their peak, they will be tough and less flavorful.

Jane Ford is an Advanced Master Gardener. Email questions to features@ This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel. To read other columns, go to and click the left-side link for Columns.



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