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Over the Garden Fence

Where gardeners come to find out what's happening out in the yard.

Harvesting Vegetables

Posted by Richard Hentschel -

Down the Garden Path

Richard Hentschel, Extension Educator

Vegetable gardens are really beginning to produce our favorite fruits and vegetables now despite the weather pattern we have had this season. Earlier cool weather promoted lots of foliage on our leafy greens and that gave us lots to harvest, eat and share. Now our other crops producing fruits like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and okra are coming along. Vine crops are also really taking off, most likely finding their way well outside the boundaries of the official garden. Recent county fairs having a "largest vegetable" category showed us just how big that missed zucchini or summer squash can get!

Some simple guidelines on when fruits and vegetables should be harvested will give us the best produce for the dinner table. Produce harvested at the peak will also allow us the store them for longer times before using them. Of course the big goal is to harvest and use them as soon as possible, enjoying the great flavors, good texture and visual appeal.

We already know that the vine crops can quickly produce oversized fruits if we are not watching closely. Summer squashes and cucumbers may only take 3 to 5 days after being pollenated to be of harvestable size when adequate soil moisture is present. This puts them in the four to six inch length if we talk squashes and six to eight inch sizes for a slicing cucumber. If you are growing pickling types it may be only 3-4 days before they are ready.

Tomatoes should grow quickly with good soil moisture. If they are ready to pick and then we water or get a rain, the skins can quickly split, so the be sure to pick any fruits that are mature or will be mature in a couple of days if you know it is going to rain or you intend to water. Varieties make a big difference on fruit size and color. By keeping the plant tags in the garden or collected in a pot in the shed will help you know when to expect maturity.

Longer maturing vegetables like Swiss chard can be and should be harvested on a regular basis all season long. Chard has some pretty good tolerance for cold weather and can used well in cold weather. Harvesting the outer leaves as you go will always give you young fresh leaves coming on. Okra is another crop that takes a while to develop and can get tall in the garden. Harvest those fruits while they are tender.

Vegetables that work well in succession plantings are snap beans. Beans can be planted several times during the season in smaller shorter rows allowing for a continued harvest through the summer. Those earlier plantings can give way to other vegetables for the fall. Snap beans should be harvested when you can just begin to see the bean seed starting to show in the bean pod.

It is not too late to consider planting for the fall garden right now. Leaf lettuce, Mustard Greens, Spring Radishes and Spinach could still be planted. Don't give up on the garden till the weather really takes it out. Eat well till then right out of the garden.

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