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Harvesting Vegetables

Be sure to harvest no vegetable before its time

Determining when to harvest vegetables at their peak in taste and freshness can be tricky.

Harvesting too late can result in less tenderness and poor quality. In some cases, leaving vegetables on the plant too long will drain the plant, causing less production.

It’s not a bad idea to pick and taste a few of the vegetables for readiness. Harvesting too early may result in smaller vegetables and less flavor.

Before planting always read your seed packet to check and see how many days it takes for the vegetables to mature. This will give you an idea of when your crop will be ready to harvest. If you are forgetful, like I am, put the days to maturity, date planted and variety on a stake for reference. If you are using unpackaged seeds or transplants, you can check with your local extension office to determine the days to maturity.

The following list is taken from an extension publication in Georgia and is helpful in harvesting vegetables at their peak.

  • Asparagus: Can be harvested when spears are 6 to 9 inches tall.
  • Snap beans: Can be harvested while pods are still smooth.
  • Lima beans: Can be harvested when pods are full but seeds are green.
  • Beets: Can be harvested when 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter.
  • Broccoli: Can be harvested before flowers show yellow color. Remove the center head and allow side shoots to form and harvest them.
  • Cantaloupe: Can be harvested when melons can be removed from the vine without pressure.
  • Cabbage: Can be harvested when head is firm and heavy.
  • Cauliflower: Can be harvested before curd loosens and discolors. After head is removed, discard the plant.
  • Carrots: Can be harvested anytime roots are firm and brittle.
  • Corn: Can be harvested when kernel juice is milk, silk begins to dry, and ears are full to end.               * Cucumbers: Can be harvested while seeds are small, flesh is firm, and color is green.
  • Eggplant: Can be harvested before color begins to dull: firm to touch.
  • Lettuce: Can be harvested while tender and milk-flavored before seedstalk begins to form.
  • Okra: Can be harvested when pods are 2 1/2 to 31/2 inches long.
  • Onions: For green bunching: Can be harvested when bulbs is 3/8 to 1 inch in diameter. For storing: After the tops have died down.
  • English peas: Can be harvested after the pods have filled out before they turn yellow.
  • Sugar snap peas: Can be harvested after pods form but before yellowing.
  • Southern peas: For fresh or frozen use: Can be harvested when pods shell easily. For drying: after pods are dry and brittle.
  • Pumpkins: Can be harvested after they are full size.
  • Bell pepper: Can be harvested when pods are full size and firm.
  • Hot peppers: Can be harvested after pods reach full size.
  • Irish potatoes: Fresh use: Can be harvested after tubers are one inch in diameter. Storage: After vines have died down.
  • Sweet potatoes: Can be harvested after reaching desired size but before frost or cold weather, approximately 120 days.
  • Radish: Can be harvested while firm and brilliantly colored.
  • Summer squash: Can be harvested when large end is one to 21/4 inches in diameter.
  • Winter squash: Can be harvested when rind is not easily dented by fingernail.
  • Swiss chard: Can be harvested while leaves are crisp and dark green.
  • Spinach: Can be harvested while leaves are crisp and dark green.
  • Tomatoes: Can be harvested when full colored but still firm.
  • Turnip greens: Can be harvested while leaves are crisp and green.
  • Turnip roots: Can be harvested when 2 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter.
  • Watermelon: Can be harvested when tendrils die, rind on ground becomes yellow and netting thickens.

For additional information on vegetable gardening in Florida, log onto the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences Web site at Click on “Master Gardener” from the list at the top of the screen, then choose “Vegetable Gardening Handbook.” There is a vast amount of information on this site. Each publication can be printed.

Finally, you may receive a copy of the “Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide” from the Okaloosa County Extension Office, 5479 Old Bethel Road in Crestview. Our office is open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m .

Larry Williams is the extension horticulture agent with the Okaloosa County Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida.

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