Home Vegetable Garden Guide


Vegetables are living organisms that we must take care to be delicate when harvesting to retain their optimum freshness for longest amount of time. Otherwise, the harvest may be subject to shock that could cause premature spoiling.

If you were to pick food like lettuce in the heat of the day, the leaves would be rather warm and floppy instead of crisp and alert. Much like watering, you should pick food in the morning or evening for best results.

Vegetable Harvesting Recommendations


Asparagus can be harvested the third year after planting crowns. Spears may be harvested in May and Junewhen they are 5- 8 " tall by cutting them or snapping them off. Cutting may damage some spear tips that have not yet emerged from the ground. To snap a spear, bend it from the top toward the ground. Tip! Asparagus deteriorates rapidly after harvest. If it is not eaten immediately, it should be processed or refrigerated.


Snap beans, or green beans if planted in mid-spring should produce through summer. Harvest when the bean is between 6-8" long. Growing season is 45-60 to maturity. For a sweeter taste harvest them when they are young.


Harvest beets when they are 1 1/4 to 2 inches in diameter. The beet tops can also be eaten as greens. The leaves should be 4 to 6 inches long.


Broccoli is at it's best when about 4" wide. Cut with sharp shears right at the crown, where the individual heads come together.

Brussels Sprouts

The small sprouts may be picked or cut when they are firm and about 1 inch in diameter. Pick the lower sprouts as soon as they are large enough for use. Lower leaves may be removed to allow more room for sprouts to develop.


Carrots are fully ripe when their shoulders reach up out of the ground and the leaves turn a rich, darker green than they were during the growing season. You can harvest a few baby carrots when they are big enough to eat if you get impatient!


Cucumbers may be picked when they are 2 inches long or less for pickles, 4 to 6 inches for dills, and 6 to 8 inches for slicing varieties. A cucumber is at its highest quality when it is uniformly dark green, firm, and crisp. Cucumbers are past their prime if they are large, dull, puffy, and yellow. Remove old fruits from the vine so that young fruits will develop.


Harvest eggplant when the fruits are 6 to 8 inches long, glossy, and have a uniformly deep color. The fruits are overmature when they become dull, soft, and seedy. Use a knife or pruning shears to cut the fruit off the plant. Leave the green calyx attached to the fruit.


Pull up the bulbs when the tops start to yellow and dry. Place the bulbs on screens to dry. When dry, trim the roots out close to the bulb, remove the loose outer sheaths, and store under cool, dry conditions.


Watermelons are ready when the curly tendrils closest to the fruit turn brown and dry, the fruit's skin goes from shiny to dull, and when the bottom of the watermelon goes from light green to yellowish. Cantaloupes are harvested with the bottom turns yellowish.


Okra is quick to harvest. You should check the okra about 4 days after the flowers fall. They should be about 2-4 inches long. If left too long, the outer skin will become tough. Tip! Cut any okra that has been left too long to keep your plant producing. The pods should be picked at least every other day if you want the plants to remain productive.


A good indication your onions are ready is when the foliage topples over. Dig the bulbs and store them in a dry place to cure for at least a week. You can also use onion blooms in salads for a unique flavor.


Pick peas early! if they're left a couple of days too long, they'll go from sweet to starchy. Harvest snow peas when you see the peas forming inside. Let snap peas plump up a bit before picking. Harvest shell peas before the pods have a chance to turn waxy.


Harvest in early to mid-October, before a hard freeze. The plants turn yellow when they are mature. Dig up the entire plant and shake the soil off the peanuts. Cure them by stacking the plants in an open shelter or by hanging them in a warm, dry area for a week. After the plants have dried, shake off any remaining soil and pull the peanuts from the vine. Continue to air dry for another week or two. When the peanuts are dry, they are ready to shell, boil or roast.

Peppers, Sweet

The best and most nutritious bell peppers are left to turn orange, yellow or red depending on the variety. You can also choose to pick them just before they turn color for a green bell pepper.

Peppers, Hot

Be careful when harvesting hot peppers. Be sure to wash hands thoroughly after harvest to keep from irritating your skin or eyes. Hot peppers are much like sweet peppers, for the fullest flavor they should be harvested when they are fully ripened.


The potatoes are fully ripe after the plants bloom and start to turn brown and die back. Much like the carrots, they can be harvested while young.

Sweet Potatoes

Harvest in the fall before frost kills the vine. Handle carefully when digging to avoid bruises. After digging, let the roots lie exposed for 2 or 3 hours to dry thoroughly, then put them in a warm room to cure for about 10 days. Store at 50 to 55 degrees F and 85 percent humidity.

Summer Squash

For the best flavor, harvest summer squash when they are about 4-5" long for best flavor.


Tomatoes will go through shades before they are ready to pick. Wait for them to fully change color and for the fruits to have a bit of softness before picking. If you area growing an unfamiliar variety of tomato, check the seed catalog for your particular color indications. For green tomatoes pick them right before they start to change color. To reduce shock, clip the tomatoes to cause the least amount of damage.


Harvest when the roots are 2 to 3 inches in diameter. The tops can be used for greens when they are 4 to 6 inches long. Turnips can be left in the ground after a heavy freeze and mulched with straw for harvest during the early winter.

Winter Squash

Wait until their rinds are thick enough that you can't pierce them with your thumbnail. They will store for several months in cool dry conditions.