Presented by Bonnie Plants
Summertime is when warm-season vegetables and herbs begin to deliver big, beautiful harvests. To get the most from your garden, you have to know the best time to pick, and the best tools to use.
Here are some tips to ensure that you enjoy your homegrown produce at its finest.
- Corn: Corn is ready to eat when the silks have begun to turn brown on the end of the cob. If you are still uncertain, pull back a husk, check to see that the kernels have filled out, and break open a kernel. If it is milky, it is ready. For sweeter corn, pick in the morning. Twist the cob as you pull it down to break it from the stalk.
- Cucumbers: Small fruits usually offer better flavor and texture. Remove yellow, over-ripe fruit so the plant will continue producing. Remove from vine with small clippers.
- Eggplant: For best flavor, pick when the fruit has a glossy skin. Cut from the plant with clippers, leaving a piece of the stem attached.
- Green beans: Best when the pods are tender and the beans inside have not yet begun to swell. Pick often to catch them at their best, at least 2-3 times per week. Use small snips to avoid pulling off future flowers along with the bean.
- Okra: In hot weather, okra grows fast. Pick every other day, choosing pods between 2 and 4 inches long. Use small clippers, and protect your hands and arms from leaf hairs. Discard long pods that have grown too tough to eat.
- Peppers: Any pepper can be picked while green, but fruit that matures to red, yellow, or orange will be sweeter or hotter, depending on the variety. Cut peppers, rather than pulling them, to avoid breaking branches. Wear gloves while picking hot peppers and don’t touch your eyes.
- Summer squash: These are best picked young and tender, before the seeds inside become inedible. Use a sharp knife to remove fruits from plant. Squash grows fast in summer, so harvest at least every other day.
- Sweet potato: Before the first frost, use a digging fork to loosen the soil in a wide circle around the plant. Pull the crown, trim off the vine, then use your hands to gather the potatoes. (Be sure to check anywhere the vine seems rooted to the ground, as there may be more.) Let them cure, unwashed, in a warm spot for 7-10 days to develop their sweetness.
- Tomatoes: Fruit should be fully colored (red, orange, yellow, or purple, depending on the variety) but still firm when squeezed gently. Slightly under-ripe tomatoes will continue to mature after picking. Always store tomatoes at room temperature.
- Winter squash (including pumpkins): Use a knife to cut from the vine before frost arrives. They are ready when they are fully colored with a hard rind and a shriveling stem. If you avoid lifting them by the stems, they will last longer in storage.
- Basil: Begin pinching leaves once the plant becomes 6 to 8 inches tall. Keep plant pinched even if you’re not planning to use the herb, to keep it from flowering.
- Dill: Harvest as needed anytime between seedling stage and flowering.
- Oregano: Snip sprigs as needed. Harvest often to encourage new growth.
- Cantaloupes: When ripe, the tan netting becomes more noticeable against a golden background, and a crack appears around the base of the stem. Fruits should be easy to pick without any tools.
- Watermelons: When ready, melons will appear dull green (not bright), and when you gently turn over the fruit, the color next to the soil will be yellow, not white. You should hear a deep thud when you thump on it. Cut melons with shears or a knife, leaving an inch of stem.