I read a Facebook post the other day from a new gardener wanting to know what was wrong with her cucumber. The fruit was still on its vine, but it was starting to turn yellow.
One look and I knew that cucumber had grown way past its prime, and was more suitable as an entry in a giant cucumber contest at the fair than for eating. Fruits like this one have been on the vine too long and will be seedy and bitter.
Harvesting fruits, vegetables and herbs at their peak of freshness is the goal for every vegetable gardener. It’s easy to leave produce on the plants too long. Sometimes it’s because we want the tomatoes to ripen just a bit more or to get eggplants to the same size as those at the grocery store.
The key is to pick early and often. For example, peppers and cucumbers will keep producing through the gardening season as long as you keep picking them. Eggplant growth will slow or stop if the fruits aren’t harvested on time.
Fruits and vegetables that stay on the plants too long send a signal that it’s time to start going to seed.
Here are some when-to-pick tips to avoid the problem with over-ripe vegetables:
- Clip cucumbers from the vines while they’re still young, dark green and firm for the sweetest taste.
- Snip eggplants from the plant while fruits are the right size for the variety and while the skin is still shiny.
- Clip peppers (sweet and hot) from the plants when they reach a usable size. To make sure they’re fresh, break one in two with your hands to make sure it snaps and doesn’t bend. If you want colorful fruits, wait until they turn red, yellow, or the color you want.
- Harvest summer squash will they’re still small and the skin is shiny. The perfect size for zucchinis is 7-9 inches long.
- Leave winter squash on the vine until the stem and leaves are drying, and the skin turns dull.
- Clip tomatoes from their vines when they’ve reached their mature color and size. They should have a smooth shiny skin and a pleasant tomato aroma.
This When to Harvest Vegetables article offers tips for additional fruits and vegetables.
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