5 Tips on When to Harvest

  1. Harvest in the early morning after the dew dries. This is when vegetables are at their juiciest and most flavorful. Produce will keep longer and not become limp from heat; this especially refers to leafy greens like lettuce and chard and herbs such as parsley and basil. It also applies to crisp fruiting vegetables like peas and anything in the cabbage family, broccoli, and radishes.
  2. Once a crop starts producing, check the garden every day! Zucchini can grow from 2 inches to 2 feet very quickly, and you want to pick them at 6 to 8 inches. Beans do not wait for anyone. If you don’t keep picking beans once they get started, they’ll simply slow down. Or, if you let those cucumbers grow as big as baseball bats, the plant will assume that its reproductive period is over.
  3. Bigger is NOT usually better. This is a common novice mistake. Big beets, beans, or okra pods will only taste tough and woody; big radishes will turn into balls of indigestible fiber.
  4. Be gentle when you pick. Never yank fruit or vegetables. Stems and branches are easily broken, inviting disease. Use two hands to pick; hold the stem in one hand and pick with the other. If the crop is ripe but doesn’t easily pull by hand (such as eggplant), use scissors, pruners, or a knife.
  5. Not all fruits and vegetables ripen the same way. Pears are picked when they are still hard! Watermelons, squash, and cucumbers must be fully developed before being picked. Tomatoes, apples, and peaches can ripen on or off the vine.

If you’re growing your own, you have a major advantage over grocery store produce because they often need to pick well before the vegetable has reached peak flavor and nutrition.

When to Pick in Illinois

June Harvests

There are lots of things that can be harvested in June. Here are some of the things that are ready, when to harvest, and how to harvest them.

  • Asparagus – Cut spears when they are about 6 to 8 inches long; otherwise, the base will get too tough. Look for tightly closed tips and firm yet tender stalks that are about as thick as your pinky finger. Cut or snap at the soil surface (no deeper) before the tips begin to separate.
  • Basil – Harvest as soon as the flower buds begin to appear (but before they open) for the best flavor.
  • Beets – Look for small to medium-sized roots (1-1/2 to 3 inches in diameter). Beets can be harvested at any time, but the larger ones will often be tougher and woody. Beets should have smooth, firm flesh, show a rich color, and have healthy green leaves (not wilted).  If you are eating beets for their greens, they can be harvested anytime once their leaves are 4 to 6 inches long.
  • Blackberries – Look for plump berries with a uniform black, shiny color with a hint of dullness. Avoid reddish color. Don’t wash berries until ready to use.
  • Cucumbers (seeds can still be planted) – Once cucumber plants get started, harvest frequently (e.g., daily or every other day). Bigger is NOT better with cukes. If they start to turn yellow, their seeds harden, and they’ll taste bitter. Small cukes are the sweetest and have the softest seeds. Pickling cucumbers should be between 2 and 6 inches, and other cucumbers between 6 and 10 inches. Look for richly dark, glossy green skin, a firm and heavy body, and no yellowing at the blossom end. Harvest the fruit by cutting stems with a sharp knife or pruners; never pull or tear. Not only does harvesting frequently ensure the best taste and texture, but it also keeps the cucumber plant producing!
  • Kale – Harvest kale leaves when they are the size of your hand or a little bit bigger (6 to 8 inches long).  As with spinach, younger leaves will be more tender. Cut with a knife or scissors, starting with the outer leaves at the bottom of the plant and working your way up; be sure to leave seven or eight leaf crowns to regrow after harvest.
  • Peas – Harvest garden peas as soon as the pods are elongated (about 3 inches) and feel full, but before the peas start to show or bulge and before the pods begin to yellow. Snip the pods off the vine with scissors or pruners. It’s best to pick a “test” pod and open it to see if the peas have filled it. Mature peas should taste sweet, crisp, and juicy! They need to be eaten soon after harvest because otherwise, they’ll turn into little starch balls. Also, you must harvest peas daily or every other day because they’ll stop producing quickly if they get too mature.
  • Radish – Pick radishes when they are just 1 inch in diameter, or they will turn “hot” and woody. Look for a firm, smooth, well-shaped body. The color should be bright. The leaves should be healthy and green. Use a garden fork to lift them out of the ground gently.
  • Strawberries – Ripe strawberries are fully red in color and shiny. They’ll be plump and green-capped and have a fragrant aroma. Don’t wash berries until ready to use.
  • Squash (Summer) – Smaller is better when it comes to zucchini and other summer squashes! With a pruner or knife, harvest when 6 to 8 inches long when they’re the most tender and flavorful. Once summer squash starts producing, pick DAILY and go in the morning just after the dew dries. Pick pattypan squash at 2 to 3 inches long, round zucchini at 3 to 4 inches, and longer trombetta squash at 12 to 14 inches. If you leave squash too long, the tender skin hardens, it gets seedy and watering, and its flavor goes away.

Other Harvesting Resources

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