Cool nights are a thing of the past, days are filled with sun and heat, and, for those spring gardeners, vegetable plants are blooming into their retrospective visages. While planting seeds and caring for your infant sprouts is a crucial part of the gardening process, knowing the art of harvesting is just as important. Harvesting too early may reduce further production, while harvesting late in the game may yield a bad product.
Therefore, now that summer is in full swing, let’s take a moment to learn the ins and outs of vegetable garden harvesting!
When to Harvest
When it comes to the timing of your summer vegetable harvest, it’s all about the type of plant. Each variety of vegetable plant offers tell-tale signs of its growing status. The greens of your onion plants will begin to wilt, flop over onto the soil, and lose color. This means they are perfect for digging up! Yet, if you see yellow buds blooming on your broccoli plant, you need to harvest immediately.
With that said, even if you don’t know the visual signs, vegetable plants can also be harvested based upon well-researched growth timetables. Of course, there are many factors that play into these growth estimations as well including if you began from seed or sprouted plant, if the plants have been receiving adequate water and sun, if the soil provided ample nutrition, as well as large-scale factors such as climate, especially elevation, temperature, and weather risks (snow, hail, frost, etc.). These factors will decide the growth rate of your plant. That’s why strategizing the placement and soil mixture of your vegetable garden is incredibly important!
One of the best and easy-to-access resources is the Old Farmer’s Almanac. Available in both print and online, the Old Farmer’s Almanac is a reference guide providing weather forecasts, astronomical data, recipes, articles, and, most importantly for us, planting charts. These planting charts include when to plant every vegetable based upon where you live, but it also references when to harvest, how to harvest, and the best techniques to extend your plants harvesting ability.
With that said, simply take a look at the back of your seed packet! Each packet should give you simple planting directions and growth suggestions.
Harvesting Best Practices
Growing and harvesting vegetables require both knowledge and intuition. While patience is key, especially when your veggies begin to look so tantalizingly green and ripe, allowing ripened produce to remain on the vine is just as dangerous. For example, when it comes to one of the vegetable gardener’s favorites, kale, the Old Farmer’s Almanac breaks down harvesting by visual cues — when the leaves are the size of your hand — how much is safe to harvest at an individual time — a fistful per harvest — and what not to do — don’t pick the ‘terminal bud’. While best practices come down to the individual plant, there are a few sweeping guidelines to follow in general.
Protecting your vegetables and fruits from over-ripening and eventual rot is incredibly important to the overall health of your garden. While it may seem like overkill, harvesting produce on a daily basis is a great tip for first-time gardeners. Daily harvesting supports further production of the plant and avoids rot.
One of the best indicators of harvesting veggies is the size of the produce. With that said, bigger is not better in most cases. Every vegetable has its perfect size for the best flavoring. Oftentimes, when the vegetable grows too big it loses both tenderness and flavor.
Continuously Ripening Veggies
There are a host of vegetables and fruits that will continue to ripen after being plucking from the vine including tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. These are great plants to test your harvesting skills on! If you harvest too early, simply leave them in a bowl on your kitchen table and wait a few days to a week.
Harvest Before Bolting
The term bolting is used widely throughout vegetable gardening books and articles. Bolting simply refers to rapid or runaway growth of a plant. The best way to tell if your plant has bolted is to identify the change from leafy to flowers and seeds. This is a basic survival instinct in most vegetable plants and is generally caused by hot weather. Once your plant bolts, it’s pretty much inedible. Energy resources have been redirected from the edible parts, such as leafy greens and heads of broccoli and cauliflower, and they become bitter and tough.
Storage Tips and Tricks
Oftentimes, a whole crop of vegetables will ripen at the same time. Daily harvests may reap an abundance of vegetables leaving you with a delicious and homegrown product that you simply can’t eat. Donating and sharing your organic foods is a great option, yet, most gardeners seek to store their vegetables until they are ready for eating. While each vegetable or fruit had a different shelf life and requires different storage care, there are a few guidelines that can be used as general rules of thumb.
Never Store Veggies and Fruits Together
Did you know that fruits actually give off a ripening agent? This agent is called ethylene, a hydrocarbon gas, that fruits produce naturally via growth, as well as when the plant is damaged. While ethylene plays a key role in the growth of fruits — regulating and determining the speed of the plant’s growth and development — it also means that any veggies stored nearby will also ripen very quickly. Therefore, in order to extend the storage time of your vegetables, avoid storing them in the vicinity of fruits.
Storing vegetables in tight quarters causes quicker rot. In order to avoid this, give your vegetable breathing room. When prepping for storage, make sure the container, whether a bag or a box, has breathing holes throughout. Also, don’t store vegetables bundled together or layered. If you have a cold pantry, designate one entire shelf for vegetables, display in a single layer, and remove any rubber bands or string bundles.
Cleansing vegetables from the grocery store is a must, even if you buy organic. On the other hand, some vegetables should be washed and some shouldn’t before storage. Soft herbs and mushrooms, products that retain water, should be put into storage without a wash. Simply remember to rinse them before eating. Other, less soluble vegetables, such as leafy greens, can be soaked, cleaned, and dried before storage.
What to Cook
Once you’ve harvested and stored your homegrown veggies, it’s time to enjoy them! As temperatures tick up, so does summer recipe experimentation. Below are a host of plant-based summer recipes that are perfect for your harvested veggies!
Hearts of Palm Ceviche/One Green Planet
When it comes to vegetables in the summer, think simple salads of leafy greens, cooled ceviche’s, and squash! Not only are these cool temperature recipes easy to make and nutritious due to a mixture of cooked and raw vegetables, but they also utilize some of the basic vegetables grown in home gardens. Try a few of these summer-friendly recipe ideas: Jerk Tempeh Lettuce Wraps With Mango Basil Aioli, Easy and Quick Summer Minestrone, Raw Cashew Cheese Tarts With Sun-Dried Tomato Crust, Spaghetti Squash With Meatballs, or this Hearts of Palm Ceviche.
Blackberry Kombucha Ice Pops/One Green Planet
Growing fruits is one of the most satisfying tasks in the garden. This is especially true when it comes to consuming them! Take your homegrown bounty and create some delicious snacks and desserts throughout the summer! Try a few of these creative ideas: Grilled Peach and Arugula Salad With Grilled Croutons, Pina Colada Popsicles, Basil Berry Peach Cobbler, Roasted Strawberry and Watermelon Sorbet, or this Blackberry Kombucha Ice Pops.
Cilantro Lime Tacos/One Green Planet
While herbs can be a challenge to keep going during the cold springs and the boiling summers, the benefits are completely worth the trouble. From healing teas to delicate desserts to flavor imbibed dishes, herbs know no bounds in the kitchen. Try a few of these diverse recipes with the herbs plucked directly from your garden: Matcha Green Tea and Mint Cheesecake, Sun-Dried Tomato, Basil, and Kalamata Olive ‘Ricotta’ Spread, Cilantro Lime Tacos, or this Cashew Dill Mozzarella.
For more plant-based, nutritious, and simple recipes for your homegrown foods, we highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!