When should I pick my vegetables?

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It’s that time of the gardening season you’ve been anxiously awaiting: Tomatoes and peppers are ripening,  squash is weighing down the vines, and (early) potatoes are ready for the table.

But what’s the best way to harvest what you’ve sown? It all depends on the produce you’ll be picking. With some fruits and vegetables, it’s easy to tell what’s ripe and what’s not because color and size are their prime indicators. Others, however, can be harder to judge.

Take cucumbers, for instance.  Sure, they may be green, but are they the right size? Pick too early and the fruit may not be fully formed. Pick too late, and you may get one bitter tasting monster cuke and little else for your effort.

According to the Veggie Gardener web site, “The cucumber should be a nice medium to dark green color, and should feel firm when gently squeezed … [you can leave] cucumbers on the vine until they are 10 to 16 inches long, but a cucumber tastes great at 5 – 8 inches as well. Picking the cucumbers early and often will encourage the vine to keep producing longer into the season.”

Rodale’s Organic Gardening newsletter advises that “Frequent harvesting of cucumbers helps the vines produce new fruit … Pick bright green, firm slicing cucumbers when they reach 6 to 9 inches long. Detach cucumbers from the vine with a quick, upward snap. Quickly remove and compost any yellow, puffy, overripe fruit.”

Potatoes are a different story. Depending on the variety of spud and the time of season it was planted, some should be ready to harvest now. Others will need to wait until late September or even October. Just keep an eye on the plants. If they’re falling over or have already turned brown, the tubers are ready to come topside. If you plan to store your spuds, the folks at the National Gardening Society recommend waiting “for the best weather conditions possible before digging them up. Choose a warm, dry day after a period of little or no rain. Cloudy days are even better, since too much light turns newly dug potatoes green, changing their flavor.”

They suggest using a 5- or 6-pronged fork to dig under the hill and lift up the plant, gently shaking loose dirt away. Leave any other dirt on the spuds – it’s important that you don’t wash them or clean off too much dirt until you’re ready to use them, because doing so can cause them to spoil prematurely. After they’ve been dug up, let them sit outside for about an hour so they dry off, then move them inside to ‘cure’ for about two weeks “in a dark place with temperatures around 55° to 60° F with high humidity of up to 85 or 95 percent,” states the NGS site.

For winter storage, the site says, move the tubers into containers that allow air to circulate, and place them in a much cooler dark spot that’s about 35 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit with moderate humidity and ventilation. They should last for up to eight months.

For more great harvesting advice, check out this guide from Rodale’s Organic Gardening. For storage guidelines, take a look at this article from Penn State.

What’s your favorite garden crop and preferred storage method? Let us know in the comment section below, or on our Facebook page.