The adage, sow little and often, also rings true for harvesting. Gather what you need when you need it for huge returns. This is especially true of herbs, beans, cucumbers, summer squash and berries — at least until your crop gets to the point you can’t keep up. Then it’s a mad dash to pick while it’s hot — cook, can, preserve and eat. You don’t want to risk missing your summer harvest in its prime.
Harvesting, like deadheading, stimulates flowering. A continual harvest of plants like pole beans, sugar snap peas, cucumbers and tomatoes keeps the blooms coming along with the fruit. Pruning herbs is similar. If done correctly, pruning leafy plants like herbs encourages the growth of more leaves.
Tips For Improving Your Summer Harvest
- What did you plant? Knowing what you planted along with its typical days to maturity (how long it takes to grow from seed to fruit) gives you a ball park as to when to begin harvesting. Keep a journal or take notes on your calendar.
- Understanding the size and appearance of vegetables and fruits at maturity is key. A sugar baby or other mini watermelon will be much different in size at maturity than a larger, picnic variety.
- Graze. Your taste buds know when food tastes best. Many fruits and root vegetables are more tender and flavorful when picked early and not left to over mature. This is especially true of cucamelons, radishes and turnips. However, fruits like strawberries, raspberries and tomatoes generally have a narrower threshold of perfection.
Tomatoes, Raspberries and Blueberries
When these fruits fall away in your hand at the slightest touch they’re ripe. You can also smell when a tomato is ripe — a trick I use with many fruits, peaches and thin skinned melons included — especially when shopping at the market.
Cucumbers, Summer Squash and Pumpkins
If I’m in a hurry and working quickly, I simply twist the stem and break it off at a right angle just above the fruit or, when taking greater care, cut the stem with a knife or clippers. This way the fruit isn’t damaged in the process and will last longer if stored.
Watermelons can be tricky. In general, when the skin facing the soil turns from white to yellow it’s nearly ready to harvest. You can also give it the classic thump to listen for a hallow thud or simply cut one open and try it (my favorite method).
Herbs are forgiving and appreciate pruning. Don’t be afraid to pick leaves as you need them or take entire sprigs or even a collection of sprigs. Your plant will continue to grow and produce more stems and leaves if you prune just above branching points and leave at least 1/3 of the leaves and stems near the base.
Root Vegetables: Beets, Carrots, Radishes and More
Check for maturity by simply moving soil away from the crown of the root. If it looks good to eat, it probably is.
With summer comes the perfect excuse to experiment. Unless you’re growing a prized jack-o-lantern, you can’t go wrong. Visit your garden every day, nibble here and there and be prepared for the cash crop when it comes in.
Find more DIY gardening tips from me and other fabulous garden writers in Green Side Up, a magazine out on shelves now through August. Enter to win one below or look for it in your local grocery or bookstore. Time to celebrate summer! Yahoo!