Sunday, February 22, 2015

Harvesting Vegetables

Harvesting your vegetables is almost the best part of having a garden (next to eating them, of course!). It is important to understand how to harvest your food so that you don't damage your plants in the process. It is also helpful to know when your plants are ready for harvesting.

Summer Garden

Over the summer we had a very prolific garden. 

  • Green Bell Peppers- When they are the size of your fist they are ready to pick. We used cooking shears to cut the stem closest to the pepper in order to harvest it.
  • Purple Bell Peppers- Same idea although ours stayed about half a fist size.
  • Hot cherry Peppers- when these turned from green to bright red they were ready to pick (using the same shear technique).
  • Cucumbers- When these were almost the size of store bought cuc's we would cut them from the vine with shears. Remember, they are actually prickly and you have to rub off the prickles. Their vines are prickly too so take care not to let them graze your skin too much.
  • Tomatillo- When these tomato-like fruits fill up their leafy exterior to the point of ripping open, then they are ready to harvest. Remember to take off the leafy shell and don't eat it.
  • Roma Tomatoes- These are ready when they turn bright red. You know tomatoes are rip when you barely have to touch them and they fall right off the vine. Be careful not to wait too long because they will fall of the vine and then bugs will enjoy the fruits of the garden before you will.
  • Fat Boy Tomatoes- These can grow as large as two fists of you let them. Again, wait until they are bright red and seem to just fall away from the vine.
  • Green Okra- Okra needs to be cut away from the trunk it grows from with cooking shears. When an okra pod is about 4 inches long it is going to be perfect. They can get even larger (up to 7 inches) but the bigger they are the more impossible it will become to eat them. They get very woody when you let them get that large and you will not be able to chew most of it. As they okra plants get taller you will need to find a way to bend the plant carefully in order to cut away the pods or you will need a stool. It is worth it, I promise!
  • Black Beauty Eggplant- These will grow to the size of store-bought eggplants. You should cut them away from the stem with cooking shears when they are dark purple. If they start to fade in color that means you let them hang on the plant too long and they need to be harvested immediately. They have a tendency to get heavy and pull the plant down as they grow so be sure to give your plants lots of extra support to keep the fruit off the ground (or bugs will find their way inside).
  • Watermelon- Our watermelon did not grow well this summer. We had three melons form and one grew to be about 2-3 pounds but bugs found their way inside all of them. They ended up rotting on the vine because of the holes we did not see had been poked into them.
  • Asian Ginger- My neighbor gave me a ginger root and told me to poke it in the dirt and see what happens. I did. Before I knew it, in two months, I had a small plant growing up from the ginger root. I left the root he gave me int he ground for 4 months an when the first frost came I dug it up. The root had tripled in size. I cut away the plant and cleaned the root to cook with. I left a small portion of it in the garden just to see if it would come back in the spring.
  • Yellow Squash- These will grow under their large leaves and it is important to pull dead, rotting leaves and plant matter off the forming fruit or it could cause the fruit to rot too. When the squash are the size of squash you could buy in the grocery store, cut them with shears away from the vine.
  • Zucchini- These grow the same way squash does and when they are about 10 inches long they are ready to harvest. Cut them away from the vine with cooking shears too.

Fall Garden

  • Variety of Lettuce- Lettuce is great because if you can keep it covered during cold temperature and freezes then you will have it all winter into Spring. We planted a variety of Lettuce. Romaine varieties require that you cute them with shears like you are giving it a hair cut- just trim from the top, don't ever pull the whole leaf out or you will kill the plant in time. Leaf Lettuces require that you break off 50% of the leaves during harvest with your hands. Be careful to not break away 50% just on top or just on the bottom, but pull from all over so that your lettuce don't start growing tall and go to seed. If they start getting tall then they are going to seed and they will start to taste very bitter. This means, all of the plant energy is going to the seeds and not to the leaves.
  • Kale-We planted three types of Kale: Curly, Dinosaur and regular. All of them can grow so that each leaf is around 6 inches long. If you have great fertilizer then yours can get up to 20 inches long or longer. Use cooking shears to cut the leaves at the stem to harvest them.
    photo from
  • Swisschard- We planted "bright lights" swiss chard which has pretty colorful stems. These are harvested just like kale. It is best to cook Swiss chard rather than eating it raw.
  • Tatsoi- is my favorite green. These little babies grow about 1-2 inches in circumference and they are ready to pluck. Just pull off individual leaves from the plant like leaf lettuce. 
  • Broccoli- When the head of the broccoli looks fully formed and the buds are still tight in the head then you can cut it away from the stem with a knife. If the head's little buds begin to open and turn yellow then you have waited too long.
  • Cauliflower- it is the same idea with the cauliflower except it will not turn yellow. You take it when the head looks fully formed like what you would see in the store only a little smaller.
  • Cabbage- When the head of the cabbage is about the size of a head at the grocery store and when you squeeze it the head is firm then it is time to cut the cabbage away from it's root system with a knife (you take the whole head). Once you have done this, the plant will not grow back so make sure this is is the right time.
  • Kohlrabi- When the base is the size of a woman's fist it is ready to harvest. You just cut it away from the root system like you would with cabbage. Once it is cut then it will not grow more.
  • Collard Greens- These can grow to be huge leaves but ours stayed around 8 inches mainly. These are harvested much like kale and swiss chard. We like them raw and cooked. 
Kohlrabi Photo from
After harvesting any of our vegetables, we always wash the in a colander and store them someplace fitting. Tomatoes will last much longer if you keep them out of the refrigerator. Greens should be dried fully before being stored. Tomatillos should be cooked before you eat them. All of these vegetables except for the lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes can be frozen well just as they are. Tomatoes freeze better then they have been cooked first.