Warm Season Crops: Plant-by-Plant Guide to Harvest
Corn—Start examining kernels after silks turn brown. Kernels should be plump and run milky when pierced with a fingernail. The milky color signifies that sugars have developed. Clear juices indicate not-so-sweet corn—if you find clear liquid, you may need to wait up to a whole week to pick. Check ears in three to four days. Sweetness starts to diminish the moment ears are picked. For best flavor, cook corn the same day you pick it. If you must store it for a day or two, don’t remove husks and keep ears cold.
Cucumbers—Pick fruit as soon as they appear fully formed and filled out. Cucumbers don’t always pull easily from the vine; carry kitchen or garden shears to snip stems. Plants produce more steadily when fruit is consistently picked. Avoid allowing early cucumbers to grow too large or the vine will yield fewer fruits overall. Use cucumbers within 7-10 days of picking. If you’re inundated with fruits, make some pickles.
Green beans—Once bean bushes and vines start blooming, check plants daily for ripe fruit. Pick beans when pods are small—about the thickness of a No. 2 pencil. French filet beans, however, yield thinner pods. Thicker pods, where the bean bumps are visible, can be chewy and woody. The more you pick beans, the more vines produce. Gather early beans as soon as they’re ready; if they’re allowed to ripen to maturity on plants, the crop will stop. Pull beans from vines with your fingers. Store beans in a plastic bag in the refrigerator and use within two weeks.
Herbs—For most herbs, flowering signals the end of the harvest. This is especially true of basil and oregano. Keep blooms snipped from plants to ensure flavorful leaves. Gather herbs by the leaf or stem. Strip leaves from woody stems of herbs like rosemary, basil, or thyme.
Sweet peppers—Pick green peppers as soon as they’re fully colored, shiny, and full size. Most peppers will continue coloring and turn shades of yellow, orange, or red. To harvest peppers, use a sharp knife or shears to snip stems. Leave a piece of stem attached to peppers, which helps them to last longer. Store peppers in the refrigerator, and use within three to five days. Harvest peppers before frost. Use any that get frosted immediately—they won’t store well.
Tomatoes—Ripe tomatoes don’t need to be fully colored—pick them when colored at least halfway. Tomatoes should feel heavy for their size and come easily off the plant. Ripen picked tomatoes on a counter or windowsill. Don’t refrigerate tomatoes, as they lose their flavor within two hours in the fridge. Avoid leaving tomatoes on the vine too long. Fully ripe tomatoes only keep two to three days on the vine.
Watermelon—Determining watermelon ripeness is almost more art than science. Watch several items to gauge ripeness. The visible rind should change colors, from bright to dull green. The part of the skin touching the soil shifts from greenish white to cream. Tendrils nearest the melon shrivel and turn brown. Rapping on the melon should yield a hollow, low-pitched sound. Test some unripe ones to train your ear for the wrong sound. Uncut watermelons can store up to two weeks in the refrigerator, but it’s best to eat them at the peak of ripeness.
Zucchini—Pick fast-growing zucchini when fruits are 4-5 inches long. As soon as squash starts to form, check plants daily, looking beneath all leaves. Zucchini grows rapidly, and a fruit can easily grow to baseball bat size if it’s hidden under foliage. If you pick faithfully, zucchini vines will produce for about a month. For true zucchini lovers, sow a second set of seeds about a month after the first one to extend the harvest season.
Creative Commons License / photo credits: Lowes