One of the most important things to remember when harvesting is that the job of a fruit or vegetable is to produce seeds so the more you pick the more it will encourage the plant to re-bloom and produce more crops. If too much fruit remains on a plant production will slow. So even if you can’t eat all those veggies pick them and give them away so your garden will keep producing.
Harvest fleshy vegetables early in the day before fruit has had a chance to heat up and is full of moisture. This will extend shelf life and flavor.
Toward the end of the season begin pinching off the new flowers of eggplant, peppers, melons, squash and tomatoes. These blooms will not have time to develop before the first frosts but will steal energy from the plant and make it more difficult for the existing fruit to ripen.
Asparagus – do not pull as this could damage emerging stalks below the surface, instead cut with a sharp knife. Harvest the first round early to promote more growth. Stop harvesting after the stalks become thinner and allow the plant to develop and store energy for the next season.
Basil – once the plant develops at least 5 stem divisions begin picking. Always pinch two leaves at a time removing an entire new growth section. Picking one leaf here or there will weaken the plant but pinching back to the last division point will encourage new growth. Once the plant goes to flower it will become bitter so keep pinching.
Beans and peas – pick even if you are not eating them to ensure more come on. If you are drying beans leave them on the stalk until the pods dry to a lovely brown then pick and store in a cool dark place.
Broccoli – is a cold season plant and once the heat comes on they tend to flower rapidly. Pick florets early because when the flowers open the entire plant can dry out and quickly wither. Broccoli will often produce additional side florets once the top has been harvested.
Cabbage – harvest the first heads when small but leave 3 to 4 leaves at the base as these will produce additional heads that can be grown to full size.
Corn – it can be tricky to tell when the right time is to harvest corn. A good rule of thumb is to start checking firmness about 3 weeks after the silks appear.
Eggplant – love heat which means that sometimes they can be difficult to grow in Portland. Pick them young for best results.
Garlic – stop watering when the first leaves begin to yellow and sag. Pull after most of the bottom green leaves have turned to brown. Shake off excessive dirt but do not wash , simply hang in a cool dark place and allow to dry for a few days then cure them as you do onions.
Lettuce – thin out small leaves to use as micro greens and to make room for the larger heads to develop. Pick often because once they go to flower they become bitter.
Onions – can be picked at practically any stage of development and eaten immediately as green onions, partially formd bulbs or big fatties at maturity. You will know when they are fully grown because the green tops will wither. If curing wait for a week or so, then pick them after a sunny stretch and leave them out to dry as this will kill the roots. Picking them when they are a little on the dry side also helps in storage because they will have less moisture stored in the bulb. To cure them fully for storage spread them out in dry airy spot and periodically turn them for at lease 2 weeks or until they no longer have any wet spots.
Peppers – pick young and tender and often. If you want to dry hot peppers pick before the rains come, wash and hang to dry, if they are not quite mature pull the entire plant and hang in a cool dry dark place upside down.
Summer squash and zucchini – pick them while they are small to encourage the plant to keep producing. And check plants often as they have an amazing ability to hide in plain sight until they are big enough to make a boat.
Tomatoes – You will know when your tomatoes are ripe because they will leap into your basket at the slightest tug. If the cold season is approaching and you still don’t have ripe tomatoes remove all the emerging blossoms and immature fruit, you can also withhold water to try and shock the plant into ripening the fruit. If the temperatures drop harvest the fruit with some vine attached and place in a cool dark place as opposed to a sunny window.
Winter squash – wait until the vine has withered, pick and wash with a week solution of bleach to remove bacteria that can cause rot. Let them dry in a cool place for about a week until a they can resist a fingernail in the skin, then place them into cold storage.
Melons – will not continue to ripen once they have been picked so don’t pick them to early. A thump of your thumb resulting in a hollow sound means they are ready to be eaten.
Fruits and vegetables stop setting fruit about 2 weeks before the autumnal equinox (this year Tuesday Sept 23rd) so most harvesting of summer crops should be completed about this time. But if the days stay warm and night temperatures don’t drop to low some fruit can continue to ripen on the plants – just keep an eye on the weather.