Harvesting Your Garden Produce

Kathryn Fontenot, Koske, Thomas J.  |  4/22/2005 1:38:33 AM

Tender, small okra.

Maturation processes occur in vegetables that permanently change their taste, appearance and quality if they are not harvested at the proper stage of maturity.

Texture, fiber, flavor and sweetness are greatly affected by stage of maturity. The stage of maturity at harvest, post-harvest handling and the time interval between harvesting and serving affect the quality of all vegetables. Some vegetables are more highly perishable than others. Standard (SU) sweet corn, okra and English peas are very difficult to maintain in a prime fresh state for even a short time, whereas some vegetables, like pumpkin and winter squash, have a much longer shelf life.

Even after harvest, respiration and other life processes continue, and in most cases a slowing of these processes will increase the shelf life of the vegetable. Lowering the internal temperature helps to slow these processes. This is one reason for harvesting vegetables early in the day before the heat from the sun (field heat) has warmed them. After harvest, most mature vegetables should be kept cool and out of direct sunlight until processed or consumed. Tomatoes are an exception; they should be kept cool but not refrigerated. Always serve them at room temperature for best flavor. If not fully colored, keep tomatoes in the light for proper color development.

The following table gives suggestions for determining the proper stage of maturity for harvesting many vegetables. Harvesting too soon may result in only a reduction in yield in terms of pounds harvested. Harvesting too late can often result in a poorer quality because of development of fiber and the conversion of sugars into starches.

Vegetable

Part Eaten

Too Early

Optimum

Too Late

Artichoke, Globe

Immature bloom

Flower buds small

When buds are 2" to 4" in diameter

Buds large with scales or bracts loose

Asparagus

Stem

Insufficient length , 1*

6" to 8" long; no fiber

Excess woody fiber in stem

Beans, Lima

Seed

Insufficient bean size

Bright green pod; seed good size

Pods turned yellow; ok for dried beans

Beans, Pole Green

Pod and seed

Insufficient size, 1*

Bean cavity full; seed ¼ grown

Seed large; pods fibrous; ok for dried beans

Beans, Snap Bush

Pod and seed

Insufficient size , 1*

Pods turgid; seeds just visible

Pods fibrous; seed large

Beets

Root and leaves

Insufficient size , 1*

Roots 2" to 3" in diameter

Roots pithy; strong taste

Broccoli

Immature bloom

Insufficient size , 1*

Bright green color; bloom still tightly closed

Head loose; some blooms beginning to show

Brussels Sprouts

Head

Insufficient size; hard to harvest , 1*

Bright green; tight head

Head loose; color change to green yellow

Cabbage

Head

Insufficient leaf cover , 1*

Heads firm; leaf tight

Leaf loose; heads cracked open

Cantaloupes

Fruit

Stem does not want to separate from fruit

Stem easily breaks away clean when pulled

Background color of melon is yellow; rind soft

Carrots

Root

Insufficient size , 1*

½" to ¾" at shoulder

Strong taste; oversweet

Cauliflower

Immature bloom

Head not developed , 1*

Head compact; fairly smooth

Curds open; separate

Celery

Stems

Stem too small , 1*

Plant 12" to 15" tall; stem medium thick

Seed stalk formed; bitterness

Collards & greens

Leaf

Insufficient leaf size, 1*

Bright green color; small midrib

Midrib large; fibrous

Corn, Sweet

Grain

Grain watery; small ; BABY CORN, 1*

Grain plump; liquid in milk stage

Grain starting to dent; liquid in dough stage

Cucumber

Fruit

Insufficient size , 1*

Skin dark green; seeds soft

Skin beginning to yellow; seeds hard

Eggplant

Fruit

Insufficient size , 1*

High glossy skin; side springs back when mashed

Seeds brown; side will not spring back when mashed

Lettuce, Head

Leaves

Head not fully formed , 1*

Fairly firm; good size

Heads very hard

Okra

Pod

Insufficient size, 1*

2" to 3" long; still tender

Fiber development; pods tough

Onions, Dry

Bulb

Tops all green

Tops yellow; ¾ fallen over

All tops down; bulb rot started

Peas, English

Seed

Peas immature and too small to shell ; EDIBLE PODS, 1*

Peas small to medium; sweet bright green

Pods yellow; peas large

Peas, Southern (green)

Seed and pod

Peas immature and too small to shell ; EDIBLE IMMATURE POD, 1*

Seeds fully developed but still soft; pods soft

Seeds hard; pods dry

Pepper, Green Bell

Pod

Pod thin and small, 1*

Tick walled and green to some red

Pod shrivels

Pepper, Colored Bell

Pod

Pods still light green and thin walled , 1*

Bright red/yellow etc. and firm

Pod shrivels

Potato, Irish

Tuber

Insufficient size, 1*

When tops begin to die back

Damaged by freezing weather

Potato, Sweet

Root

Size small; immature; 1*

Most roots 2" to 3" in diameter

Early plantings get too large and crack; damaged by low soil temperature below 50°F

Radish/turnip roots

Root

Size too small, 1*

Appropriate size for variety.

Pithy, strong flavor, hot taste, fibrous.

Soybeans, edible

Seeds

Seeds not developed

Pods thick; bright green

Pods yellowing/ dry; seed shatters out

Squash, Summer

Fruit

Insufficient size, 1*

Rind can be penetrated by thumbnail

Penetration by thumbnail difficult; seed large

Squash, Winter

Fruit

Rind soft but can be used as summer squash, 1*

Rind difficult to penetrate by thumbnail

Damaged by frost

Tomatoes

Fruit

May be harvested in three stages:

Mature green – tomato firm, mature, color change from green to light green, no pink color showing on blossom end.

Pink – pink color on blossom end half. These tomatoes, at room temperature, will ripen in 3-4 days. Expose to indirect light / don’t keep in the dark.

Ripe – tomato full red but still firm. Should be used immediately or these tomatoes will store one to two weeks if kept 60 F. (Warm to room temp before using.)

Watermelon

Fruit

Flesh green; stem green and difficult to separate

Melon surface next to ground turns from light straw color to a richer yellow

Top surface has dull look

1* harvest younger than optimum is ok.

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