When to Harvest Your Vegetables for the Best Flavors

When to Harvest Your Vegetables for the Best Flavors

August 1, 2022  |  Harvesting, Vegetables
Harvesting Vegetables

In life, timing is everything. This is especially true when it comes to vegetables.  


As soon as they are removed from the plant, vegetables begin to lose flavor, tenderness, and nutritional value. That means the best time to cook and serve your crop is immediately after harvesting. If you wait too long, your hard work will drift into mediocrity.  


It is not always easy to know when it is the best time to harvest your crops. However, there are a few key indicators that can help give you an idea of the best time to harvest.  


Keep reading to find out more! 


Signs it is Time to Harvest Your Vegetables 


It is not always clear when it is the best time to harvest your vegetables. You do not want to wait too long or else the vegetables can become overripe and mushy. You also don't want to harvest too soon or else your vegetables will be flavorless and hard.  


So how do you find the ideal time to harvest? Here are a few tips from your friends at Knollwood Garden Center. 


  • Color. Many fruits and vegetables turn specific colors when they ripen. Oftentimes, it is the most vibrant shade of their natural hue. How do you know what color your vegetable will be at its ripest? Check the seed packet for the ideal shade. Alternatively, you can ask a gardening expert (like the friendly staff at Knollwood Garden Center) for more specific advice. 

  • Sheen. What do we mean by sheen? Many vegetables develop a natural shine on their surface when they are ready to be harvested. This shine is sometimes described as a “healthy” look. Why does this happen? As fruits and vegetables ripen, their storage cells expand with water, sugars, starches, organic acids, vitamins, and minerals. This transforms the vegetable’s skin from dull green to a shiny vibrant hue (often red, orange, or yellow). As the fruit ripens, starch and acids decrease, and sugar content reaches its peak. The sheen means the storage cells are full of the best, most tasty nutrients.  

  • Size. What does growth mean? An increase in size, of course! That means that size is one of the best indicators of ripe fruits and vegetables. Harvest your vegetable when they reach usable size (meaning they can be cut up and used for cooking). If your product is too small to meet the requirements for serving size, then it needs more time on the vine. But don’t wait too long! If you try to push your veggies to their size limit, you will likely end up with an overripe mouthful of mush. 


Best Harvest Times for Common Garden Vegetables 

Let’s look at some specific garden vegetables that you may be growing this summer. Use this guide to decide the best time for harvesting.   


Asparagus. Asparagus is best harvested when the stems reach between 6 to 10 inches in height, less than one inch in circumference, and when the bud tips are very tight. Here's how to properly harvest: bend the stems in the ground until they snap. The portion that remains behind is too tough to eat, and the portion that comes off in your hand is perfect for a meal. Because asparagus produces multiple yields, you must not let the stems become too thick (this impedes the plant's ability to transfer nutrients). Never allow the stem to grow over ½ inch in diameter. 


Snap Beans. Beans are a great source of nutrients and protein. That is why they make such a popular garden plant. Snap beans are ripe when, as the name suggests, they snap off the plant when bent. Harvest snap beans before the seeds begin to fill out the pods. Typically pole snap beans should be harvested in 9 weeks, and bush snap beans should be harvested in just 8 weeks.  


Carrots. Carrots are typically ready to harvest 60 to 80 days after you sow the seeds. You will know it is time to pull the carrots when the top of the root is ¾-1 inch in diameter. The carrot root will be a vibrant orange and will likely begin popping above the surface.  


Lettuce. Salad anyone? You will know it is time to harvest lettuce when the heads are firm and lush green. For crisp head and butterhead lettuce, this is typically 10-11 weeks after sowing your seeds. For these strains, sever the whole head at the crown. For loose-leaf, harvest leaf by leaf, cutting off the largest outer leaves when they are mature (6-7 weeks after sowing). Romaine lettuce is typically ready to harvest 11-12 weeks after sowing.  


Tomato. They may be fruits, but that doesn't mean you can't grow tomatoes in your vegetable garden. Your tomatoes are ready to harvest when they have developed vibrant red skin with a healthy sheen. Tomatoes ripen from the center of the fruit outwards, so if the skin looks ripe, that means the whole fruit is too. To harvest simply lift the fruit gently until the stem snaps.  


Onion. Another root vegetable, onions are typically ready for harvest 3-5 months after seeds have been planted. You will know they are ready to harvest when the leaves of the plant turn yellow. Stop the growth of the bulb by bending the stem of the plant to a nearly horizontal position. This will allow the onion to ripen. To harvest, brush away soil around the top half of the bulb. Leave the plant in this state until the leaves begin to turn brown. At that point, lift the bulb from the soil. 


Garlic. Garlic is typically ready to harvest 90-110 days after planting. A clear sign that your garlic is ready is that the leaves turn yellow and begin to droop. Stop watering your plants as soon as the leaves turn yellow. Next, bend over the leaf tops. Harvest the bulb and let them dry in a dry and shady place for several days until the skin becomes papery. Once bulbs are dry, cut off the leaf stalk and trim the roots.  


Better Seeds and Gardening from Knollwood Garden Center 


Vegetable gardening is an art like any other. It takes time, experience, and some failure to get it right.  


But most importantly, it takes the right tools for the job. 


To get the best seeds, gardening equipment, and expertise, stop by Knollwood Garden Center in Beavercreek.  


Our expert staff will help guide you through the process to ensure that you are on the right path every step of the way.  


Ready to grow the vegetable garden of your dreams? Stop by Knollwood Garden Center today!