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.


Part Eaten

Too Early


Too Late

Artichoke, Globe

Immature bloom

Flower buds small

When buds are 2" to 4" in diameter

Buds large with scales or bracts loose



Insufficient length , 1*

6" to 8" long; no fiber

Excess woody fiber in stem

Beans, Lima


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


Root and leaves

Insufficient size , 1*

Roots 2" to 3" in diameter

Roots pithy; strong taste


Immature bloom

Insufficient size , 1*

Bright green color; bloom still tightly closed

Head loose; some blooms beginning to show

Brussels Sprouts


Insufficient size; hard to harvest , 1*

Bright green; tight head

Head loose; color change to green yellow



Insufficient leaf cover , 1*

Heads firm; leaf tight

Leaf loose; heads cracked open



Stem does not want to separate from fruit

Stem easily breaks away clean when pulled

Background color of melon is yellow; rind soft



Insufficient size , 1*

½" to ¾" at shoulder

Strong taste; oversweet


Immature bloom

Head not developed , 1*

Head compact; fairly smooth

Curds open; separate



Stem too small , 1*

Plant 12" to 15" tall; stem medium thick

Seed stalk formed; bitterness

Collards & greens


Insufficient leaf size, 1*

Bright green color; small midrib

Midrib large; fibrous

Corn, Sweet


Grain watery; small ; BABY CORN, 1*

Grain plump; liquid in milk stage

Grain starting to dent; liquid in dough stage



Insufficient size , 1*

Skin dark green; seeds soft

Skin beginning to yellow; seeds hard



Insufficient size , 1*

High glossy skin; side springs back when mashed

Seeds brown; side will not spring back when mashed

Lettuce, Head


Head not fully formed , 1*

Fairly firm; good size

Heads very hard



Insufficient size, 1*

2" to 3" long; still tender

Fiber development; pods tough

Onions, Dry


Tops all green

Tops yellow; ¾ fallen over

All tops down; bulb rot started

Peas, English


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 thin and small, 1*

Tick walled and green to some red

Pod shrivels

Pepper, Colored Bell


Pods still light green and thin walled , 1*

Bright red/yellow etc. and firm

Pod shrivels

Potato, Irish


Insufficient size, 1*

When tops begin to die back

Damaged by freezing weather

Potato, Sweet


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


Size too small, 1*

Appropriate size for variety.

Pithy, strong flavor, hot taste, fibrous.

Soybeans, edible


Seeds not developed

Pods thick; bright green

Pods yellowing/ dry; seed shatters out

Squash, Summer


Insufficient size, 1*

Rind can be penetrated by thumbnail

Penetration by thumbnail difficult; seed large

Squash, Winter


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

Rind difficult to penetrate by thumbnail

Damaged by frost



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.)



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.

Rate This Article:

Have a question or comment about the information on this page?

Innovate . Educate . Improve Lives

The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture