Harvest Notes

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Harvest snap beans as soon as the pods are big enough to suit you, but before the seeds have begun to fill out the pods. Pick them regularly to encourage the plants to continue producing. Pick shell beans when the seeds have reached full size, but before the pods start to deteriorate. Dry beans should be left on the vine to dry, and harvested when the pods are dry and papery and the foliage has withered.

You can harvest up to 1/3 of the leaves without harming the roots. Roots are best at 1-1/2 to 3" in diameter. They deteriorate if you leave them in the ground for more than ten days after they reach their full size. Pull them by hand rather than risk damaging them with tools. Before storing, twist off the tops leaving about two inches. Handle them gently to avoid bruising them. Store beets layered in sand or peat moss in a cool (32°-40° F), moist place.

When it's deep green, with the flower buds still tight, cut the center head. If the buds have started to yellow you've waited too long. Harvest secondary side shoots regularly to encourage continued production.

Pick when the sprouts are full and well-formed. Break off the leaf below the sprout, and snap off the sprout. The upper sprouts will continue to form as the lower ones are harvested. To get a once-over harvest, pinch off the growing point when the lower sprouts are 1/2 to 3/4" in diameter; a full stem of uniformly sized sprouts should be ready for harvest in about a month. Sprouts will taste best if they have been exposed to a light frost.

Cut the heads with a sharp knife when they are firm to the touch. If you leave the stalks and roots in the ground, you may get a second crop of small heads. Heads can be stored in a cool (32-40°F), moist place for 5-6 months.

Carrots are best left in the ground until you are ready to eat them. They are usually ready for harvest when they are 1/2" diameter, but they can be harvested at whatever size you prefer. To harvest, grab the greens at their crowns and pull with a gentle tug and twisting motion. Watering beforehand makes them pull more easily. If you plan to store the harvested carrots, trim the tops of the greens to within 1" of the carrot. Leave them in the sun for several hours to kill the root hairs. To remove soil do not wash; instead scrub with a brush. Store carrots in a box lined with peat moss leaving out damaged and diseased roots. Do not let the carrots touch each other. Keep in a cool location with high humidity.

Frequent examination of cauliflower is important; heads can mature as quickly as three days. They can also take as long as two weeks after the heads begin to develop. Tight heads have better flavor than loose; don't wait too long to harvest in an effort to gain maximum size. Cut the stem with a knife leaving some leaves to protect the head. Cauliflower can be stored successfully 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator.

Leaves are tastiest when 6-10 inches long. Pick a few of the outer leaves from each plant, leaving the inner leaves to continue growing. Snip seed stalks if they appear.

Three weeks after silks appear, start checking ears. Pull back part of the husk, and pierce a kernel with your thumbnail. If the juice is milky, it's ready; if it's clear, it isn't; if there is no liquid, the corn is past its prime. Sweet corn varieties, except for super sweets, lose their sweetness soon after they are picked; the old saying goes that you should have your water boiling before you pick your corn!

Pick cukes frequently, before they mature, because if the seeds of even one fruit mature, the whole vine will stop producing. Gently twist or clip the cucumbers so that you don't break the vine.

Harvest when the skin has taken on a high gloss, while the fruit is 1/3-2/3 its full size. To test, press the skin; if the indentation doesn't spring back, it's ready. Clip the fruit from the stem with shears. Pick regularly to encourage further production. The fruit will keep for up to two weeks if refrigerated.

Gourds should ripen on the vine; the fruit is mature when its stem is tough and dry and its skin has become a hard, glossy shell. Be careful not to bruise the fruit, and be aware that some varieties are very susceptible to frost damage. After harvest, cure the gourds on a rack in a warm, dry spot with good air circulation. Smaller gourds will cure relatively quickly; larger bottle gourds may take up to six months.

Avoid picking the terminal bud at the top center, so that the plant will keep on bearing. Small, tender leaves can be picked for salad mixes, while larger leaves can be cooked like spinach.

The young tops can be eaten as a steamed green. Bulbs should be harvested when young, at about 1 1/2-2 inches in diameter. They can be stored in a cool (32-40° F), moist root cellar.

Lettuce is at its best if picked early in the morning, while it is still plump with moisture. Ideally lettuce is harvested as needed, but most varieties will keep up to two weeks if refrigerated. Butterheads are especially delicate, and last only a few days even when refrigerated.

As the fruit ripens, small cracks appear in the stem where it joins the fruit. When the cracks circle the stem and the stem itself looks shriveled, the melon should be ready to pick. The stem should break cleanly with no pressure; just picking up the fruit should be sufficient to detach it. The color of the bottom surface also provides a clue; if it changes to a deeper color, the melon is ripe.

Harvest scallions at any time when they reach a usable size. Harvest bulb onions when the tops fall over and the bulbs have started to develop a papery skin. When the tops turn yellow, go ahead and bend the stems over to ensure that the plant puts its resources into developing the bulb. When the tops turn brown, pull or dig the bulbs. Gently brush off the soil rather than washing them. Cure storage onions outdoors, if weather permits, by spreading them out and allowing the tops, particularly the necks, to dry completely. Then braid them or hang them in mesh bags, and keep them in a cool, dry place.

You should be able to start harvesting peas about three weeks after the flowers appear; pick them when the pods are well-filled, but before they begin to harden or lose color. Pick snowpeas when the peas are still undeveloped. Harvest peas every day to get them at their best, and to encourage production. Early morning is the best time to harvest peas, since pods are at their crispest then and will keep for longer.

Peppers may be harvested as soon as they reach a usable size, or they may be left to ripen fully to their mature color. The longer a pepper stays on the plant, the more vitamin C it will have. Cut the peppers from the plant with a sharp knife.

Pumpkins can be used as soon as their skin loses its sheen. Pumpkins meant to be stored should not be harvested until the shells have become tough, and can't easily be dented with a fingernail. Unless frost threatens, don't harvest until the vine dies. Cut from the vine, leaving 4-6 inches of stem attached. Never hold a pumpkin by the stem; if a stem breaks, use the pumpkin as soon as possible, because it will soon rot. Store them in a cool, dry place.

Pull radishes as soon as they reach a mature size; overmature radishes lose quality very quickly, becoming cracked and tough.

Each plant should have six leaves that are 7-8 inches long before you begin harvesting. Harvest young leaves as soon as they are large enough to use; cut the outside leaves, and let the inner leaves remain to grow.

Summer squash may be picked when the skin is soft enough to be penetrated by a fingernail. Cut or twist off young fruit whenever they are the size you desire. Summer squash allowed to grow too big lost their flavor. Harvest regularly to keep plants bearing.

Harvest before the first hard frost. Stems should be cut at least an inch from the fruit when the stem is drying and the skin is hardening. Except for acorn squash, cure the fruit in the field to dry and toughen the skins by exposing them to sun for 5-7 days. Store at 50-55° F with 50-75% humidity and good air circulation. Acorn squash should be kept at 32-40° F. Be careful not to bruise the fruit at any time during curing and storage.

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