When and how to pick your crop of fall vegetables
By Dawn Pettinelli - UConn Home & Garden Education Center
- posted Tue., Sep. 13, 2011
With so much time and energy invested nurturing your crops to this point, it makes good sense, as well as good eating, to enjoy them at their peak. The following harvest tips may help.
Pick snap beans as soon as the pods begin to swell and seeds show through the skin. Over-mature pods get tough and stringy. Avoid picking when the foliage is wet, to minimize disease problems. Use your fingernail when removing pods from bean plants to snap off the pods. Pulling them may result in uprooted plants and broken stems.
Tomatoes are easy to recognize when ripe, as they change color. As a rule, any tomato showing a little color will continue ripening on the windowsill. Don’t store them in the refrigerator unless fully ripened, as temperatures less than 55 degrees F will halt flavor development. If heavy rain is forecasted, pick the tomatoes before it starts, since many varieties are susceptible to cracking as the fruit expands from the increased moisture.
Cucumbers, summer squash and zucchini plants need to be checked every two to three days for ripening fruit. Over-mature fruit quickly become seedy and unappetizing. Plus, once the plants have decided that they’ve fulfilled their seed quota, production will slow down or cease. Patty pan or scalloped squash should be picked before it turns ivory.
When onion bulbs are large enough to harvest, bend the tops down and allow the foliage to brown. Dig the bulbs and let cure in the sun for two to three weeks before storing in a cool, dry, well-ventilated spot. The mesh grapefruit bags are great for storing. Onions will keep from three weeks to seven months, depending on the variety.
Early potatoes can be judiciously harvested throughout the season, but wait until the tops die down to dig up the main crop. Try to avoid spearing the tubers when digging. If you do stab some, use these right away. Potatoes need to be cured in a dark, airy location for a few days. Gently rub the excess soil off with your hand, but don’t wash. Keep cool and dark and check occasionally for rot.
Pick eggplant when the skin is shiny and the flesh gives a little to finger pressure. Seeds become hard in older, dull-skinned fruits.
Cut the heads of cabbage when they are large and solid. Left too long, they will crack and split. If you leave the stumps of the cut stems in the garden, often small mini-heads will form before the growing season ends. These may grow to three or four inches across and are great cooked and served with a chunky tomato sauce.
Note the days to harvest and when you planted cantaloupes and watermelons, so you’ll know about when they are due to mature. They say cantaloupes can be picked when the fruit will separate from the vine with a gentle tug, but I find a melony smell to be a good indicator, as well.
For watermelons, look for a brown, withered tendril closest to the melon and a creamy white underside. The skin becomes slightly duller and you’ll hear a hollow sound when the melon is thumped. Try one before harvesting the rest, as watermelons will not continue to ripen off the vine.
For questions about harvesting your vegetables or any other home or garden topic, call the UConn Home & Garden Education Center, toll-free, at 877-486-6271, visit the Web site at www.ladybug.uconn.edu or contact your local Cooperative Extension Center.