GardenSMART :: Hassle-Free Harvest Hints And Recipes
Hassle-Free Harvest Hints And Recipes
By Bonnie Plants
Photographs courtesy of Bonnie Plants
After caring for your vegetables all season, it's finally time to harvest the cream of the crop from your garden. To get the most delicious vegetables, you need to harvest when they are at their peak of flavor.
The time of day you pick your vegetables affects taste. It's best to harvest in the morning for sweeter and juicier fruit since during nighttime hours vegetables replenish the moisture lost during the day. Sweeter vegetables use the overnight hours to make sugars from the starches they produced during the day.
Although "days to maturity" listed on plant tags is a good guide for harvesting, for maximum flavor and best texture use the tips below.
Tomatoes: Although the exact signs of ripeness vary with variety, in general, perfectly ripe tomatoes will exhibit deep color and feel firm when gently squeezed. Tomatoes begin to ripen from the bottom up, especially heirloom varieties. Once you see the skin begin to redden, harvest is approaching.
Whether a particular variety is red, orange, yellow, or purple, harvest tomatoes when they are fully colored and slightly soft to the touch. They should also give off that distinctive tomato scent and pull easily from the vine when given a gentle twist. Grasp the fruit firmly, but gently, and pull from the plant by holding the stem with one hand and the fruit with the other, breaking the stalk just above the calyx that formed to protect the bud.
Once you've harvested the tomatoes, keep them at room temperature, rather than in the fridge as refrigeration diminishes flavor and texture. Got a hefty tomato harvest? Check out some terrific tomato recipes from Bonnie Plants.
Bell peppers: Peppers grow in a range of colors, including green, red, yellow, orange and purple. In general, they are ready to harvest when they reach the full size and full color of the variety planted. The tag will indicate the approximate number of days to maturity, which can be used as an approximate guide to harvest – although weather can affect that date. Most peppers are ready to harvest within 60 to 80 days of planting.
You can harvest bell peppers when they are green. If left on the vine to ripen further, green peppers may turn red, then orange to yellow. Purple varieties will turn from green to dark purple, almost a blackish color. You can eat bell peppers at any stage during this ripening process, although the longer they're left on the vine the sweeter they'll be!
To harvest, cut peppers from the vine, leaving a short stem attached to the fruit. Ripe peppers should detach easily from the plant stem with a gentle twist. Picking peppers before they are fully mature will encourage more flowers and in turn, more peppers.
If you don't know what type of pepper you have, most can be eaten at just about any stage. Peppers have a long window of time to harvest; they can remain on the vine for several days past maturity. Flavor will intensify the longer you leave them on the plant. Overripe bells usually get sweeter, and overripe hot peppers usually get hotter.
If you're picking lots of peppers, check out a plethora of hot and sweet pepper recipes from Bonnie Plants.
Eggplant: Eggplant can taste bitter if picked underripe or overripe, so harvesting is key. It's time to harvest when eggplant is firm and has a glossy skin. When left too long on the vine, eggplant turns bitter and has a tough skin and large seeds inside. Fruit that's immature will have no visible seeds inside and if overripe, seeds will be hard and dark-colored.
Use pruning shears to harvest eggplant, cutting and leaving a short stem attached, as fruits will not pull off the vine by hand. Rinse, dry, and store in the refrigerator for several days. Eggplant discolors quickly when cut open; use marinades that include salt, vinegar, or lemon to keep eggplant from darkening.
Zucchini: Start to harvest when fruit is about 6-8 inches long. Some varieties will grow larger – even up to a foot long! Don't leave the fruit on the vine too long or the seeds inside and the rind will harden, making the fruit less than appetizing. As with other fruits, if you pick often, you'll get more fruit. Zucchini can be a prolific producer, so if you have too much zucchini, leave a few fruit on the vine and you'll slow down production.
Fruit should be dark green (or yellow or white depending upon the variety) and firm. If the fruit feels mushy, it's probably overripe. Use pruners to harvest as pulling the fruit off the plant can cause damage.
Zucchini fruit can be difficult to spot because of broad leaves. Always look underneath the plant for hidden fruit.
Store zucchini in an open plastic bag in the refrigerator or you can cube it and freeze. Frozen zucchini cubes can last up to 3 months!