Gardening with Laurie: Correct times to harvest

By Laurie Garretson
July 19, 2013 at 2:19 a.m.

We are halfway through July, and that means it is already time to prepare for our fall gardens. Many gardeners already have tomato seeds planted, and many more are preparing their beds. Fall vegetable gardens can be the most successful and sometimes the most challenging to produce.

I find that novice gardeners, as well as some experienced gardeners, often have questions about the correct time to harvest produce. Knowing when to harvest is important to get the most nutrients and flavor from your produce.

As a vegetable or a fruit reaches maturity, the levels of nutrients and sugars will rise and fall. These levels will not be at peak if left on the plant too long or picked too soon.

Let's start with the most popular of all crops - the tomato. Harvest tomatoes anytime after you notice the stem end of the fruit turning pink. For the most flavorful tomatoes, do not put them in the refrigerator. Store in a cool, dry location.

All cucumbers should be picked as soon as the variety reaches its desired size, and that will depend on the specific variety you are growing. Cucumbers that are left on the vine for too long will turn yellow and not be as tasty or nutritious.

Cauliflower will be more tender and whiter in color if you will pull the leaves together over the head and tie them together as each head gets to about 4 to 5 inches in diameter. Usually after doing this, each head should be ready to harvest in about a week.

Broccoli should be harvested just before the flower buds open, and you would see yellow flowers. This is usually when the heads are about 5 to 6 inches in diameter. After the main head has been harvested, you will have small side heads that will continue to produce.

You can start harvesting carrots as they begins to reach their mature size. Harvesting every other carrot from the soil will allow the remaining carrots to mature to a larger size.

For the best tasting and most nutritious yellow squash and zucchini, begin harvesting it while it is young and the skin is soft.

Fall is the best time to grow lettuces. The cooler temperatures allow for a much longer growing season versus spring planting. You can begin harvesting the outer leaves of leaf-type lettuces as they grow to a size you want to eat.

Taking only the outer leaves of each head means you can harvest over a longer period of time. When lettuce passes its prime, it will become tough and sometimes stringy. Head-type lettuce and cabbages should be harvested when heads are firm and about 10 inches in diameter.

Harvesting your crops at the right time will give you healthier tasty crops from your vegetable garden.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature - not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.



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