One major problem I see in the gardening world is people putting so much time and effort into growing their gardens, but not harvesting enough from them or at all. If you struggle with knowing when to harvest your food in the garden these 3 tips should help you get started.
- Size– If you are going for best flavor, you’ll want to harvest when your vegetables and fruits are on the smaller size. You want them to be a useable size, but if you wait too long and they get too big their flavor and texture will be impacted. It’s important to keep a watchful eye on your garden, especially when things like beans or squash start to grow. They can quickly go from almost ready to giant in a day or two. For bush beans, pick them when they are about pencil thin and before the beans start to bulge. (Otherwise they can become fibrous.) As for zucchini, pick those when they are about 4-6 inches. If you accidentally waited too long or missed something in the garden, experiential with it and see how it tastes, see if you like the texture at that size, etc. When I find missed or forgotten vegetables and fruits, I like to treat them in various ways so they still get ate. You can dehydrate them, use them for stock/broths, baking, juicing (if not too bitter), etc. I encourage you to harvest smaller than larger for maximum flavor and best texture.
- Color– For most fruit and vegetables besides watermelon, you’ll want to harvest them when they are bright and shiny. Seed packets may tell you when to harvest, but color is a good indicator. Jalapeño peppers are best picked when they are a shiny green, unless you like the extra heat when they turn red. Tomatoes are a hot topic when it comes to color and harvesting. Some say to leave them until they are fully their mature color, while others say to harvest right after they begin to blush. (Blushing is when a tomato just starts to turn their ripe coloration.) I have tried both ways and they both work. If you have pest pressure whether it’s insects or animals, you may want to harvest your tomatoes when they are blushing, allowing them to ripen on your counter top. This can reduce the likelihood that pests will get to them before you. If you wait until something is dull, their peak flavor may have already passed. You can still eat them, you’ll have just missed peak flavor. They will still be nutritious and better than what you can find at the grocery store.
- Timing– Speaking of peak flavor, when you harvest your fruits and vegetables can impact their flavor. Generally speaking you will want to harvest things in the early morning, ideally before the sun has reached them. This will ensure maximum water content for more juicy and crispy vegetables and fruits. This is especially important for things like cucumbers or leafy greens. If you wait until later in the day you can soak your harvest in a sink or large bowl of cool water. This helps rehydrate your harvest and helps everything crisp up. Keep in mind that there are a few exceptions to harvesting early in the morning and that would be harvesting melons and tomatoes. If you wait until the afternoon heat when the sun has been shining on these and their water content is lower, they will be more flavorful because their sugars will be more concentrated. So depending on what you are going for, you can choose early morning or in the heat of the day, knowing this can impact flavor and texture. I personally have to say that there is nothing like a tomato fresh picked in the hot summer afternoon, it bursts with so much flavor! *I also suggest harvesting around the time you want to use your fruits or vegetables, this helps optimize the nutritional content. The longer something sits on your counter or in your fridge the more nutrient loss happens.
Keep these tips in mind when heading out to your garden to harvest, but please know that our gardens and the food they give us are pretty forgiving. The food you grow will still be wonderful if you harvested it at a time that isn’t considered optimal. Also know that each gardener has their own way of harvesting based on what they like. Experiment, play in the garden and see what happens. You will grow so much from growing a garden.
If you need some 1:1 help with your garden, book a coaching session with me, I’d love to help: Coaching