In order to get the fullest flavor and nutritional value from your veggies, it is important to harvest them at the right time. Many can be harvested at just about any stage of their growth, but others do not have their best taste if they are picked when they are under-ripe or overripe; they must be harvested at exactly the right point in their development.
If you want the vegetables you have grown to arrive on your table at the peak of perfection, the following are a few suggestions and basic rules on how and when to harvest them. In addition, always remember to check your seed packets for approximate days to maturity.
Asparagus. Plants started from roots should not be harvested until the second year. Plants started from seed are not harvested until the third year. The asparagus spears are ready to harvest when they are about 8 inches long. Mound dirt up over the bases of the spears if you want them to be white and tender.
Beans. Pick the snap type when the pods are young and succulent. For dry beans, let the bean pods mature on the vines, but be sure to harvest before they get so dry that they shatter.
Beets. Best quality and food value are obtained if they are harvested when the beets are no more than 1 to 1½ inches in diameter. If you are canning them, add just a little dill for flavor.
Cabbage. Cut arid harvest cabbage heads when they are firm.
Carrots. They can be harvested at any size; however, it is best to harvest them before they reach 1 inch in diameter if you plan to eat them fresh. Larger carrots are good for canning or storage.
Corn. For best flavor, most varieties should be picked when they are a creamy yellow instead of an orange yellow. Another sign that corn is ready for harvest is when the silks are drying. Fullness of the tip kernels and firmness of the husked ears are other signs to look for. Corn should be prepared immediately if you want to enjoy full flavor and nutritional value.
Cucumbers. They can be harvested at almost any stage of development before they begin to turn yellow.
Eggplant. Be sure to harvest eggplant while the fruits are still glossy.
Lettuce. The young, succulent leaves can be picked at almost any stage of development. If left too long, however, they will go to seed and lose their best flavor.
Onions. Pick the green bunching type about seven to nine weeks after planting. Most dry onions take two to four months before they are ready. Let the dry onions hang upside down for several days before storing them.
Peas. For best flavor and food value, peas should be picked while the pods are still green and before the peas begin to harden. Check the vines regularly for maturity. Use them immediately if you want to enjoy the best flavor and nutritional value.
Peppers. They should be harvested when the fruits are nice and firm.
Potatoes. Young potatoes can be harvested at about the same time as the peas ripen, but mature potatoes are not harvested until the vines die. Store them in a dark location that is well ventilated and where temperatures are between 40 and 50 degrees. Do not store them near apples. Discard or use all bruised and damaged potatoes; do not store them.
Pumpkins. Allow them to mature on the vine. Harvest them with part of the stem intact before the first severe freeze.
Radishes. Check them regularly because the large radishes become pithy and unusable.
Spinach. Spinach leaves can be harvested as soon as they are large enough to use.
Squash. Summer squashes should be used when they are young and tender with a rind that is easily penetrated by a thumbnail. Fall and winter varieties must have hard rinds. Pick them when the stems begin to turn brown and shrivel.
Tomatoes. Fruit can be picked either when fully ripe or when pink. Or if you want to have an appetizer, pick them when they are green and make some Fried Green Tomatoes!
- Clean your kitchen and clear enough counter space to work.
- Lay out your tools; canning jars, a lip-ladle for pouring, canning pot, canning tool for removing jars, terrycloth towels.
- Check your jars, jar lids and seals for cracks and chips.
- Make sure all jars are properly sterilized.
- Double-check your recipe and have everything you need ready. Some recipes are prepared the day before so the ingredients can soak in their juices.
- Pour prepared recipe items into jars. Leave about 1 inch of space from the top of the jar. Secure lid tightly.
- Spread out towels for the hot jars coming out of the canning pot. Do not set jars directly on the counter -- the sudden temperature change can break them!
- Listen for the lids to "pop" as jars cool. The pop means your food has been sealed properly and is ready to be stored.
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