Harvesting Garden Produce
After gardeners have worked SO hard and SO long to grow fresh,
could-be-delicious produce, many are often robbed of their potential
goodness because of improper, ill?timed harvesting. To avoid
the occurrence of that unfortunate situation again, I have listed
a number of the most popular garden vegetables and the harvest
procedure for each.
BEANS, SNAP - For maximum tenderness, harvest before maturity
when pods are not yet completely full. Wash immediately and
BEETS - Early beets should be pulled from the row when about
they are about 2-inches in diameter. If they are allowed to
get much larger, they become woody, especially in warm, dry
weather. Remove all but about 1 to 1 ½ inches of the
tops. Wash and refrigerate immediately.
BROCCOLI - Broccoli heads should be harvested when they reach
4 to 8 inches in diameter and are firm and compact. Maximum
size potential can be determined by watching the development
of the floret. Broccoli heads appear to be singular structures
when actually, they are composed of many individual flowers
called florets. When individual groups of florets begin to loosen
and emerge from the otherwise continuum surface and are not
tightly clustered, the head is as large as it is capable of
being. If allowed to remain without harvesting, the florets
will continue to elongate and eventually the entire head will
be a yellow blooming composite flower. To harvest, cut the stalk
just below the head, leaving 8 to 10 inches of stem and attached
leaves. Chill immediately.
BRUSSELS SPROUTS - Harvesting begins usually in 3 to 3 ½
months after transplanting. Early sprouts should be picked over
several times—each time taking the lowest on the plant.
Otherwise, these will open out and become yellow. The first
picking should not be delayed after the lower leaves begin to
turn yellow as the sprouts get tough and lose their delicate
flavor. In picking, the leaf below the sprout is broken off
and the sprout removed by breaking away from the stalk. As the
lower leaves and sprouts are removed, the plant continues to
push out new leaves at the top, and in the axel of each leaf
a bud, or sprout, is formed. All lower sprouts should be removed
even though they may fail to make solid little heads.
Many, gardeners obviously plant cabbage, cauliflower and carrots
not knowing when to harvest them. Size alone cannot be used
as a determining factor, since variety and cultural conditions
can determine the size at its maturity. Also, many vegetables
can be eaten in an immature stage before maximum size is attained.
CABBAGE - Waylon Jennings tells folks how to determine when
cabbage is mature, i.e., it has to be "firm feeling."
When cabbage heads become solid, and the sides or top cannot
be pressed in with the thumb, it is mature and as large as it
will get. Often, mature heads will split open. If you want to
delay harvest of mature cabbage yet prevent splitting of mature
heads, twist the entire plants slightly to break several roots.
This will reduce the uptake of water from the soil and delay
CAULIFLOWER - Cauliflower heads should be harvested when they
reach 4 to 8 inches in diameter, and are firm and compact. Maximum
size potential can be determined by watching the floret development.
Cauliflower heads appear to be singular structures when actually
they are composed of many individual flowers called florets.
When individual groups of florets, termed curd, begin to loosen
and emerge from the otherwise continuum surface and they are
not tightly clustered, the cauliflower is as large as it is
capable of becoming. If allowed to remain, the florets will
continue to elongate and eventually the entire head of cauliflower
will be a yellow blooming composite flower. To harvest, cut
the stalk just below the head. The yellowish color of cauliflower
curd surface is caused by exposure to sunlight rather than roaming
pets with indiscriminate urinary habits. To protect the cauliflower
head from sun and subsequent discoloration, draw the lower leaves
of the plant loosely over the bud in a tent-like fashion when
the small bud head appears in the center of the plant. Fasten
them together with string or a rubber band.
Really hungry, frugal gardeners always want to know if the
leaves of cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are edible.
Certainly! However, older leaves are naturally tougher and excessive
leaf removal reduces overall yield and size. Leaves of cauliflower,
broccoli and Brussels sprouts are just as good as collard and
mustard leaves, providing the correct amounts of fat?back and
black?eyed peas are available. (Northerners won't understand
CARROTS - Because there are many varieties with different
potential sizes and lengths, when to harvest can be a mystery.
Most varieties fully mature within 60 to 85 days but can be
pulled and consumed earlier. Crown size can be an indicator.
The crown, where the foliage attaches to the root, usually attains
at least a ¾ inch diameter size when the carrot is fully
mature. Another surefire technique is to pull the largest carrot
and examine the bottom or growing tip. If the tip is orange
the carrot is mature. If the tip is white the carrot is still
growing and will continue to enlarge. There is no need to harvest
the carrot crop all at once. Carrots can be left in the ground
after they mature for several weeks without adverse affects.
In fact, the cool garden soil is the best place in Texas to
CUCUMBERS - Harvest when fruits are bright, firm and green,
and before they get too large; 1 ½ to 2 inches diameter
is about right, with the smaller size best for pickling. All
nubbins, fruit that is poorly shaped or light?colored, should
be picked and discarded. If possible, do not store in the refrigerator
for more than two days. It is best to pickle cucumbers the same
day they are picked.
GREENS - Harvest while leaves are young and tender, before
they start turning yellow or brown. SLIGHT bronze tints are
normal on mustard greens. Avoid wilted or flabby leaves. Wash
and chill immediately.
PEPPERS - Harvest when peppers are 4 to 5 inches long with
full, well?formed lobes. Immature peppers will be soft, pliable,
thin?fleshed, and pale in color. Wash and chill immediately.
SPINACH - Harvest when 6 or more crisp and dark green leaves
have formed. Wash gently and chill immediately. Cut or break
leaves from the plant so that re-sprouting will occur.
SQUASH - Harvest when fruit is 4 to 6 inches long for yellow
crookneck squash; 6 to 9 inches for yellow straight neck, and
3 to 4 inches in diameter for white scallop. Glossy color indicates
tenderness. Wash, dry, and store in warm area of refrigerator.
Squash, like cucumbers, is susceptible to chilling injury and
should not be stored for more than 2 days.
TOMATOES - Harvest at pink stage and ripen in a warm area
of the house. This will not affect flavor and may save loss
due to insect, neighbor and bird damage.