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When do I harvest my different vegetable crops?
To get the best yield and highest quality from your garden vegetables it is important to harvest them at the right time. If you harvest too early, the vegetables will not be full sized. If you harvest too late, they may be tough and poorly flavored; unsuitable for eating fresh, storing, canning or freezing.
Harvest the outer leaves of chard, collard, kale, leaf lettuce and parsley as soon as they reach suitable size. Spinach and lettuce may be harvested, plant and all, when the larger leaves are 4 to 6 inches long. Head lettuce should be allowed to form moderately firm heads before harvesting. Cabbage heads are ready to cut when they become solid.
Pick the large buds of brussels sprouts, which resemble tiny cabbage heads, as soon as they are firm. Start at the base of the plant and work upward.
The edible part of broccoli and cauliflower is the flower stalks and flower buds. Cut the broccoli stalk 6 or 7 inches below the flower head when the head is fully grown but before the individual flowers start to open. To keep cauliflower heads white, compact and smooth until they're full size and ready to harvest, "blanch" them with inverted cabbage leaves or tie the outer cauliflower leaves loosely over the heads when the heads become two or three inches across.
Harvest edible podded peas before the seeds begin to enlarge. The pods should still be flat. Snap podded peas should be harvested when the pods are full size but before the pods become tough. Pick regular, shelled peas, lima beans and broad beans when the seeds are almost full grown but before they become tough.
Sweet corn is ripe when the silks turn brown and the kernels are fully rounded and still full of milky juice. Peel back the husk a short distance to check the ears.
Cucumbers are ready for pickling when they're between one and a half and four inches long. They are ready for slicing when they are near full size but still bright green. Older cucumbers become soft and yellow and contain hard seeds.
Green peppers are ready when they are full size and firm but you can also wait an additional 2 or 3 weeks if you prefer ripe peppers. Tomatoes can stay on the vine 5 to 8 days after they're fully colored for vine ripened sweetness. They can also be picked as soon as they start to show color.
Onions, planted from sets, can be harvested for green onions when their tops are 6 to 8 inches tall. Continue harvesting until all are harvested, because onions grown from sets do not keep for winter as well as onions grown from seed. Onions grown from seed or young plants are ready to pull when the tops fall over and are partially dry. Leave the tops on the bulbs and dry them in a protected spot before storing.
Young potatoes can be dug once they are large enough to make it worth your while. About one and a half inches or more across. For winter harvest, dig the crop in early fall when the vines turn yellow and begin to die. This signals that the potato tubers are mature and have a firm skin, which is necessary for successful storage.