When should I harvest garden crops?

You may have noticed when reading canning recipes list only unblemished fruits and vegetables at their peak size and degree of ripeness. You may wonder what the best size and degree of ripeness is for some of the vegetables you planted.  Sometimes it is hard to keep up with the weeding and regular care of the garden and it is easy to let some vegetables grow past their prime.  Here is a short list of common vegetables and descriptions of when they are at their best for food preservation.  I’ve used some information from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension; you can check with them for more information.

  • Cherries: Sweet cherries should be fully colored with the stems firmly attached. Sour cherries should be sampled to determine proper harvest time. Be sure they are fully colored and flavorful as they will not ripen further after harvesting.
  • Peaches: The background color of the peach skin is your best guide. Pick when the background color changes from green to yellow. The reddish color on the skin is not a good guide. Taste to be sure.
  • Plums:   Pick when the flesh begins to feel soft. The skin changes color before the fruit is ripe.
  • Strawberries: Pick when the fruits are uniformly red and beginning to soften.
  • Beans:  Pick when they are small in diameter and crisp enough to snap when picked.
  • Beets: Pull when the roots are between 1 ¼ and 2 inches in diameter. Some, but not all, beets will still have good quality when a bit larger.
  • Broccoli: Harvest when the head is fully developed but before the yellow blossoms open.
  • Carrots: Pull carrots when they are ¾ to 1 inch in diameter. Larger carrots can become woody.
  • Cucumber: The end use of the cucumber will determine when to pick. Pickling cucumbers are ready for sweet pickles when they are 1 ½ to 2 inches long. Dill pickles require 3 to 4 inch long cucumbers. For slicing choose cucumbers that are 7 to 9 inches long. Do not allow the cucumbers to yellow or become too mature.
  • Kohlrabi: Harvest these when the stem is 2 to 3 inches in diameter.
  • Okra: The pods are best when they are 3 to 5 inches long. Be sure to wear gloves when harvesting as the plants are spiny.
  • Onions: Green onions can be pulled any time. Onions for storage should be pulled with half of the tops are dried and the bulbs are at least 2 inches in diameter.
  • Summer Squash/Zucchini: Pick these when the fruit is young and tender. Your fingernail should easily pierce the skin of the squash. Use zucchini when they are 1 ½ inches in diameter and between 4 to 8 inches long. Check your garden every day as zucchini grow so very fast.
  • Sweet corn: Pick when the cob is filled with kernels and still in the milky stage. Use a fingernail to pierce a kernel. A milky liquid should be released. The silks should be dry and brown. Preserve within 4 hours of picking for the best possible result.
  • Tomatoes: Pick when the fruits are fully colored and firm. During hot weather you may want to pick tomatoes that are only pink and allow them to finish ripening inside the house.

Remember that if you need any advice or recipes to preserve these or any other fruits and vegetables you can call us and we will be happy to help. Happy gardening.


Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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