The Perfect Time to Pick Your Produce
Concerns over depleted nutrients in the soil and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) drive more people every year to start their own gardens at home. About 35 percent of American households grow their own food, so about one out of every three people in the United States.
Growing your own produce saves money on groceries and gives you fresh food at your beck and call. However, knowing the best times to pick your produce is vital to keeping your plants healthy and thriving and ensuring your food is at the peak of flavor.
When to Harvest
There isn't a set rule about when to harvest all vegetables and fruits. The best harvest time varies based on the type of crop and factors such as sunshine and rain for that specific season. Fortunately, you can look for signs for both specific crops and in general.
Pick in the Morning
Most gardening experts agree that the best time to pick produce is in the morning as soon as the dew dissipates. Vegetables have the highest water content at this time, having absorbed the dew overnight. The exception to this rule is grains, which need harvesting when completely dry.
Check statistics for the specific type of vegetable or fruit, as well. Best picking times do vary, and while picking in the morning is a rule of thumb, it doesn't apply to every plant out there. Experts say that produce harvested in the morning also has a longer shelf life.
Peak of Ripeness
You can look for some general signs that indicate your produce is at the peak of ripeness, such as vivid color and full size. Some signs of maturity include:
- Green bean pods should be bright green, firm and crisp and about as thick as a pencil.
- Cucumbers are ready when they reach five inches or more in length (varies by variety) and the skin becomes glossy. The cucumber is a vegetable that goes from the perfect size to monster size overnight, so check cucumbers often and pick them the minute they look ready.
- Tomatoes are ready to pick when red takes over any green on the skin and the begin to just lose their firmness. They should pull away from the stem with little pressure.
- Apples tell you when they're ready for harvesting because the tree begins dropping ripe apples. When you notice the first apple fall, start harvesting.
As you can see, each plant has its own signal for showing it's ripe. If you still aren't sure, your local gardening club or extension office offers educational resources.
Check Your Garden Daily
When you notice the first produce ripen, start checking your garden every day. Once harvest time begins, you'll find that multiple crops come in at once and the plants produce frequently.
Some plants go through cycles, such as tomatoes that get blooms, small tomatoes and eventually ripe tomatoes. However, this process is ongoing — while you pick one tomato, another baby tomato grows, and another is almost ripe. During the peak of tomato season, you should get tomatoes every day from your garden.
Satisfaction in Growing Your Own Food
There's a certain sense of satisfaction in growing something from seed to thriving plant to harvest. Each plant has it's own ideal harvest time. The longer you garden, the more familiar harvest becomes. Eventually, you'll know at a glance if a vegetable is ready for your table or needs more ripening time.