How do you tell when to harvest vegetables and fruit? Different crops have their own tell-tale signs that let you know when they’re ready to eat. Read on or watch or video for top tips on how to judge—exactly—when your crops are ripe and ready, so you can enjoy your hard-won produce at its absolute peak.
- See our fruit and vegetable harvesting guide with a list of even more vegetables, fruit, and also herbs.
- What to with your harvest? See our 10 quick tips for preserving your harvest for year-round enjoyment!
- You may also enjoy our Summer Recipes to make the most of the season!
How to Tell When Fruits and Vegetables are Ready for Harvest
Beets and turnips are most tender when they’re around golf ball sized. Don’t let them grow larger than a tennis ball or they’ll become tough and woody.
Carrots can be dug up whenever they’re big enough for your needs. Maincrop varieties can be left in the ground until you’re ready to use them, including over winter in milder areas.
Parsnips are ready once the leaves have died back, but for the sweetest roots wait to harvest after the first frosts.
Early potatoes usually flower around 10-12 weeks after planting, and they’re ready to harvest at this point. Carefully pull back the soil to expose a few tubers at the sides to check their size – hen’s egg size is good.
Wait until the foliage of maincrop potatoes for storing has died back, around 20 weeks after planting. Rub the skin of a tuber with your thumb. If the skin doesn’t rub off, they’re ready to harvest.
Peas and Beans
Feel the pods to judge the size of developing peas or fava beans, and shell a few to double-check.
The pods of pole beans and bush beans should be long and smooth. Don’t let them get too long or bulge with beans, or the pods will become stringy and plants less productive.
For fruiting veggies like peppers and tomatoes, look for a good, even color over the whole fruit.
Traditional varieties of cucumber are ready when there is no pronounced point at the tip. Pick them small for snacking on, or allow them to grow bigger for slicing.
The best-tasting zucchini are picked once they reach about four inches long. Summer squashes can be harvested as soon as they reach the size you need.
Leave winter squashes on their plants until late autumn. They’re ready when the stem has died off and hardened. Push your thumbnail into the skin – it should dent, but not puncture it.
When the tassels at the ends of corn cobs have shriveled up, peel back the sheath and push your nail into a kernel. If you see a milky liquid it’s ready to harvest. If the liquid is clear, wait a little longer.
Enjoy loose leaves of cut-and-come-again salads while they’re still young and tender. Heart-forming salads such as lettuce should be picked as soon as the heart has begun to firm up.
For the most succulent salad leaves pick them early in the morning.
Cabbage Family Crops
Cut cabbages as soon as the leaves have formed a tight, firm head. Winter frosts enrich the flavor of Savoy types, so don’t harvest these until you’re ready to use them.
Cabbage family plants that produce flower buds, such as broccoli or cauliflower, should be picked while the buds are still tightly closed.
Garlic, Onions and Shallots
Dig up garlic, onions and shallots when the foliage starts to die down in summer for using fresh.
For storing, wait two weeks once the foliage has turned yellow and toppled over. Dig up the bulbs and cure them for storing in a cool, dry place.
Cup apples or pears in the palm of your hand and twist gently. If it pulls away easily it’s ready. Softer tree fruits such as peaches and nectarines are ready when they become slightly softer at the stalk end of the fruit.
Berries and currants should be evenly colored. Raspberries will pull easily from their plug.
Leave blackcurrants for a week after turning black to develop their full flavor. Blueberries taste sweetest two or three days after turning blue.