The end of summer is when all work in the vegetable garden really starts to pay off. Warm season crops
like corn, tomatoes, watermelon, and eggplant are ready to harvest. And the zucchinis! They seem to be everywhere!
There are a lot vegetables growing at Moss Mountain Farm and I’m getting pretty good at recognizing
the signs that indicate something is ready to harvest. I thought you might like a few pointers as well.
First year asparagus gardens should not be picked. Removing the spears weakens the plant while it is
still trying to get established. So after the first year, harvest asparagus when it is about 3/8-inch
thick and 6 to 8 inches high. Be sure to cut the spears below the soil line, about an inch, to prevent
pests and disease.
Sadly, fresh asparagus does not keep well. Soon after harvest it begins to lose sugar content and
becomes fibrous. If you cannot prepare your asparagus immediately, trim the stem ends about 1/4 of
an inch, wash and pat dry and then place the stalks upright in a glass of water. Cover them with a
plastic bag and store in the refrigerator. Asparagus will stay crisp this way for about 3 or 4 days.
Cantaloupe is ready to harvest when it pulls easily from the vine. The area around the stem may also
appear cracked. Smell is also a good indicator. If the melon smells fragrant and musky, it is ripe.
Store unripe melons in a cool, dry location and move them to the refrigerator once ripened.
Corn can be tricky to gauge because there are several variables that determine how quickly it matures.
The days to maturity listed on the back of the seed pack is a good guide, but you also need to factor
in your climate and whether the variety is open pollinated or hybrid. Sweet corn has a fairly narrow
window when the flavor is at its peak. I’ve always been told to watch the silks, once they turn brown
or black it is time to harvest. In addition, the tip of the ear should feel round, not pointed, and
punctured kernels should pop, producing a milky liquid.
Corn should be eaten as soon after harvest as possible, but it can be frozen to use in soups and
Cucumbers are best picked before they are fully mature. Gather pickling cucumbers when they are 2 to 6 inches
and slicing cucumbers when they are 6 to 10 inches. Pick in the early morning before the day gets hot. To help
retain moisture take an inch of stem along with the cucumber. To keep the plant producing it is important to
remove over mature fruits.
Cucumbers placed in a loose bag will keep for 3 days in the refrigerator.
Harvest when 3 to 5 inches long or 4 inches diameter. The skin should be glossy. Cut a bit of stem as well.
As with most fresh vegetables, it is best to use eggplant the day it is harvested but given modern day schedules,
this is not always feasible. You can store eggplant for about 3 days in the refrigerator.
Pick okra frequently because it matures quickly, especially during hot weather. It only takes about 4 days
for it to go from flower to harvest time. The pods should be tender, about 2 inches long and easy to cut
with a knife. Remove old pods to keep the plant producing. Cover your skin when harvesting to protect yourself
from the irritating bristles.
Keep okra in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. Store in the crisper in a perforated bag. Do not wash okra before
storing because wet okra will mold quickly. Browning of the pods indicates that they are past their prime.
Hot peppers can be picked at any time. Sweet or bell varieties need to mature on the plant. These are ready to
harvest when they are 3 to 4 inches long, are firm, and have even color depending on the variety, either green, red,
purple, orange, or yellow.
Dry or pickle hot peppers for storage. Bell peppers will keep unrefrigerated for two to three weeks.
Early potatoes or those collected in spring or summer can be dug when the vines are in bloom, about 10 weeks after
planting. Mature potatoes are ready for harvest when the vines have died about half way back. Lay the potatoes on
the ground in a shady spot for a day to dry. Don’t cure in the sun as this will make them turn green.
Early potatoes can be stored unrefrigerated. To store potatoes long term (5 – 10 months) first cure for 1 – 2 days
then store in a single layer in a dry, cool, dark place.
A pumpkin is ready to harvest when it has reached the desired color and the rind is hard. You can test its readiness
by jabbing your fingernail against the outer skin, or rind. It should be strong enough to resist puncture. Also, you
can tell a pumpkin is ripe if you hear a hollow sound when you thump it.
Pumpkins are usually ready to harvest by mid-fall. Bring them in before the first frost or when night temperatures are expected
to drop down into the 40s for an extended period of time.
Gently clean the pumpkins by brushing off any excess dirt and then place them in a dry, warm area for 7 to 10 days. This
will heal scratches and further harden the rind, which helps reduce moisture loss. If a frost is expected cover the
pumpkins with a frost blanket overnight.
After they have been cured keep your pumpkins in a cool location (about 50 to 60 ° F), out of direct sunlight with plenty
of good air circulation. Stored this way, they should last up to 3 months.
Gather summer squash when they are young and tender, about 4 to 5 inches in length. Old, large fruits with tough skins
should be removed from the vine and thrown away. This will encourage more flowers and fruit. Patty pan squash is ready
when it is 3 – 4 inches in diameter and the skin is still soft enough to puncture. With the exception of hubbard, squash
should be cut with about 1-inch of stem.
Squash will keep in a loose plastic bag in the refrigerator for 2 or 3 days. Do not wash before storing because water
droplets will cause decay.
Pick snap beans while they are young, before the beans become visible inside the pod. All beans including snaps should be
harvested continually to promote more bean production. Harvest early in the day after dew has dried on the leaves.
Beans will keep for 3 days in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Do not wash before storing because wet beans will decay
quickly. You can also freeze snap beans. Blanch before freezing.
Tomatoes should be uniform in color and firm. During hot weather tomatoes soften quickly, so pick them often even if they
are slightly immature. If a killing frost is predicted go ahead and bring in the green tomatoes. Those that have started
to lose their chlorophyll will ripen off the vine. They will be light green to yellow in color. Immature green tomatoes
can be used for relishes and chowchow.
Store ripe tomatoes unrefrigerated. Green tomatoes can be kept in a paper bag with an apple to ripen. The apple produces
ethylene gas, which speeds up the ripening process.
When the curly tendril opposite where the melon is attached to the vine turns brown and shrivels that’s the sign it’s time
to harvest the melon. The underside may also turn a cream color and the skin will be dull and tough.
Store uncut watermelons at room temperature. They will keep for about 2 weeks. Cut pieces will keep, tightly wrapped in
plastic, in the refrigerator for 2 or 3 days.
The rind of winter and autumn squash should be hard and deep in color. You should be able to press into the skin with your
fingernail and not leave an indention. Harvest in early to mid-autumn before the first hard freeze.
Gently remove any dirt and set the squash in a warm, sunny location to cure. It usually takes just a few days for the skin
to harden and any scratches to seal. Store them in a cool, dry location in a single layer with a bit of space between each
Like summer squash zucchini should be harvested while young and tender although the fruits should be about 6 to 8 inches long.
Old, large fruits with tough skins should be removed from the vine and thrown away. This will encourage more flowers and fruit.
Place unwashed, in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Use in 2 to 3 days.