You've planted, pruned, weeded and watered, and your little seedlings have sprouted into a full-grown summer garden. Now that your crops are coming in, you've reached the toughest part of gardening: knowing when it's harvest time. Some fruits and veggies can be picked whenever you like, but some have a very short window for the best flavor. Harvest with style, and don't forget to eat your crops as soon as you can after picking!
Beans (Green or Snap)
Pick beans before the pods start to bulge. You only have a day, maybe two, after they reach full length and before they start to swell and toughen. Check every day, and don't forget to look underneath leaves.
This one's a matter of taste. You can eat both the green tops and the sweet, crunchy root whenever you like. The only rule is to wait until the root "floats" slightly out of the soil.
Broccoli is a flower, but we eat it just before it flowers. Check your broccoli daily once heads have formed and the days heat up, and catch them before they burst.
Carrots can be tough to judge, since you can't see what's going on beneath the soil. Once the tops start to protrude from the soil, pick one to test. You can leave carrots in the ground until after the first frost, so don't rush!
Check daily! These plants produce heavily and grow fast. Make sure you look under the leaves. Pick these when the skins are even in color. It's up to you how big you want them to grow, but an extra day or two on the vine can lead to monster veggies with softer texture. Don't forget to harvest and eat some of the blossoms, too!
Cut eggplants before they're fully grown for the best flavor and texture. The skin should be firm and shiny.
Muskmelon (Cantaloupe relatives)
When the skin turns beige and you detect a sweet odor, give these a gentle tug and they should come right off the vine.
Dig up "new" potatoes when the tops start to flower, or wait until the tops start to turn brown for full-grown spuds.
Pick tomatoes when they are fully colored and slightly soft to the touch. Left too long, they may split, fall or rot. If you have trouble with birds and bugs -- or if a frost is predicted -- you can pick tomatoes while they're still green, and let them ripen in a cardboard box in a dry, warm spot away from direct light.
When the white spot on the bottom of the melon turns yellow, thump it with your finger. It should sound hollow. If you aren't sure, pick it!
Photo by Lisa Larsson.