Spring and summer is the time to harvest green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and many other veggies. The bounty in these two seasons is the reason for gardening, in my opinion. It’s the time when we are blessed with the tastiest of fruits of our labor, and more money saved at the grocery store. These tips for harvesting your garden vegetables will give you the information you need to harvest at the right times in the season.
When it comes to harvesting garden vegetables, it seems like it’s sometimes a mystery as to when they are ready to be plucked from the plant or vine. Sometimes, fruits and vegetables are harvested too early and haven’t fully developed on the plant, causing the flavor and texture to be less than it should be. Other times, we harvest late and the bugs and birds take advantage of the soft flesh of our ripening fruit. Try these 10 tips for harvesting your garden vegetables and stop guessing when the time is right!
Tips for Harvesting Your Garden Vegetables
My suggestions for each garden vegetable are very general, so make sure to consult your seed packet or plant marker for the specific plant you will be harvesting. Write down what you learn about each individual plant in your garden planner (I like to use The Gardening Notebook), so that you have specific information for the plants you prefer. If you make this a habit, you will have the information you need each growing season.
Tomatoes are ready to be harvested somewhere between 49-90 days, depending on the variety you have planted. Harvest when they are mostly red with perhaps a small amount of yellow at the top, unless you are growing yellow or orange varieties, and in that case you would wait until they are all that color. They should feel firm, but not hard, when harvesting. Allowing tomatoes to ripen on the vine is preferable, but if you must harvest early or before they are finished ripening, put them in a paper bag and store in a cool, dry place.
Ideas for What to Do with Your Newly Harvested Tomatoes
- dehydrate them
- water bath can them
- freeze them
- make and can salsa
- ideas for using green tomatoes
- eat them fresh on a salad
- melt fresh mozzarella and basil on top and eat for a snack
Cucumbers are usually better harvested small, somewhere between 50-70 days, depending on which variety you have planted. Pickling cucumbers are best harvested between 2-6 inches, while larger varieties can be harvested early or later, between 2 and 8 inches long. They should be firm, not soft or wrinkled anywhere on the fruit, and bright green (pickling) or dark green (larger varieties).
Ideas for What to Do with Your Newly Harvested Cucumbers
- make fermented garlic dill pickles
- make a cucumber-dill ribbon salad
- make a Five Greens Salad
- make another cucumber salad!
- make brine cured pickles
- make fresh pack garlic dills
- make crispy dill pickles
Zucchini is also one that is great when harvested smaller in size, no longer than 6 inches. Harvest around 45-55 days, when they are the most tender and flavorful. If they get really big, they lose that tenderness and flavor and aren’t good for much more than collecting seed.
To harvest, cut the stem with a small knife, or if you can manage it, you can break the stem. Sometimes, if you choose to break the stem, the fruit will break instead, so I recommend using a small knife or garden scissor of some kind to cut it.
Ideas for What to Do with Your Newly Harvested Zucchini
- make zucchini chips
- make “Zapple Pie”
- make zucchini gummy candy!
- or try one of these 10 ways to use it!
- make the most delicious “mock” apple crisp!
Green beans are best harvested smaller, around 50-60 days, before the beans inside the pod are defined enough to see. That means you’ll want to harvest when they are 3-6″ long (depending on variety), and when they are smooth, green (unless it’s a different colored bean, like yellow or purple), and not lumpy or wrinkly at all. Green beans usually grow in pairs, but pick them singularly if only one is the right size. They should come off relatively easily, but if not, you can hold the stem with your other hand and pull the bean off.
Ideas for What to Do with Your Newly Harvested Green Beans
- pressure can them
- freeze them
- or freeze them the lazy way!
- make dilly beans
- steam them and serve them for dinner
- make Parmesan Bacon Green Beans
- make Crispy Green Bean Chips
- make a healthy green bean casserole
- make brine cured dilly beans
Carrots are harvested when their green leaves and foliage are 8-10 inches long, and the carrot top looks thick. This is around 70-80 days. To harvest, carefully stick a shovel or garden fork into the soil, being careful not to damage the carrots, and loosen the dirt to prevent breakage.
Succession planting idea: Once you harvest a carrot from a space, sow a few carrot seeds in its place. It is true that carrots will grow smaller if they are planted close together. No need to worry if more than one seed sprouts, just snip off the least vigorous plants and allow the most vigorous to grow!
Ideas for What to Do with Your Newly Harvested Carrots
- pressure can them
- preserve them
- use them in sauerkraut
- dehydrate the greens
- ferment them
- make Cumin Sauteed Carrots
- make Copper Penny Carrots
- make Morroccan Carrots
Radish are ready very quickly, in as little as 22 days, and as long as 70 depending on the variety you’ve chosen. They are harvested when the top of the fruit/root is round, about an inch in diameter (depending on variety) and poking out of the soil. Loosen soil around the radishes for easy harvesting.
Ideas for What to Do with Your Newly Harvested Radishes
- make a pesto
- make a Fennel and Radish Citrus Salad
- fry them like potatoes for a low carb side dish
- eat them on a salad
Kale is harvested as young leaves from the bottom of the plant about 2 months (60 days) after planting. It can be harvested from for many months in this way and can survive heat and cold.
Ideas for What to Do with Your Newly Harvested Kale
Green Onions are harvested when their stalks are 6-8 inches tall, and the bulb has begun to swell (in about 20-30 days). Use a garden shovel to gently loosen soil, then remove the onions.
Ideas for What to Do with Your Newly Harvested Green Onions
Potatoes are harvested 2-3 weeks after the plant dies back, which is about 75-90 days after planting. Use a garden fork to gently loosen the soil, then remove the potatoes.
Ideas for What to Do with Your Newly Harvested Potatoes
- dehydrate them
- and make homemade convenience food with your dehydrated potatoes
- add them to foil packet dinners
- store them
- make hash browns
Sweet potatoes are harvested when the leaves and ends of vines start turning yellow, but they can be left in the ground until the first frost. This is usually between 90-170 days after planting, depending on hte variety planted. Use a garden fork to gently loosen the soil, then remove the potatoes.
Ideas for What to Do with Your Newly Harvested Sweet Potatoes
- can, freeze or dehydrate them
- make sweet potato flour
- make Low Fat Sweet Potato Muffins
- make Easy Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecans
- make Curry Lime Roasted Sweet Potatoes
- make baked sweet potato wedges
- make a quiche
- make fruit leather
These tips for harvesting vegetables are just a general overview of what gardeners need to know about harvesting spring and summer veggies. For more in-depth information, I recommend The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith. It’s a book I’ve referred to for almost 10 years for the great information it contains. If I may make another recommendation, The Gardening Notebook by Angi Schneider is a great way to keep track of garden information year after year. I highly recommend it.