Some fruits and vegetables let you know when to harvest them. Ripe tomatoes feel firm and give off a rich, earthy aroma. Peas plump up in their pods, and onion tops turn brown and bend over.
Other edibles are harder to read. It’s tricky to know what’s happening with root crops hidden in the dirt. Color can be a good indicator of maturity, but it isn’t foolproof. Sweet bell peppers can turn green, for example, and then go on to become yellow, red or purplish-brown.
Let our checklist below help you determine when to pick your edibles.
Honeydews, muskmelons and cantaloupes smell sweet when they’re ripe or sound hollow when tapped. You can thump watermelons, too, although that isn’t always effective with small varieties. Another sign of maturity: The part of the watermelon that sat on the ground turns yellowish or creamy white.
Potatoes form soon after the vines flower, so you can dig up small tubers a few weeks after planting. For bigger spuds, wait until the vines die back.
Other Root crops
Check your seed packet to know approximately when to pull beets, carrots, turnips and other root crops. Often, the best way to judge is to pull something and look at it. Some root crops get tough when left in the ground too long.
Eggplants are ready when the skins are shiny, and when you cut them and the seeds inside are visible, but not hard and dark. If in doubt, pick while the eggplants are small and tender.
Pick lettuce, spinach and other leafy greens before they bolt, or form flower stalks and seeds. Cut loose leaves once they’re 4 or 5 inches long, but don’t take them all so the plants will keep growing. Heading lettuces can be harvested after the heads start to form and feel firm.
Pick summer squash while they’re still small and tender. Harvest winter squash before the first frost, or when you can’t dent their thick skins with a fingernail.
Pick peppers when they’re green and full-sized, or when they’re the color of whatever variety you’re growing. Hot peppers will get hotter if you let them remain on the plants.
If you have more fresh fruits or veggies than you can use, why not share your bounty? AmpleHarvest.org is a 501(c)3 organization that connects gardeners to local food banks, so you can donate and help someone in your own community!