By Dayle Davis
Q: How do I know when my vegetables are at the right size for gathering?
A: Ummm ... when they look good enough to eat?
Seriously, it can be difficult to know when a green pepper is ready for picking or if the green beans need a few more days. Here is some handy advice from The Ohio State University (OSU) Department of Horticulture and Crop Science on the proper time to harvest crops:
Consult seed packets and plant tags that usually list the “days to harvest” information. This will give you the approximate time for the crop to mature but can vary a few days depending on the weather.
For harvesting some of the mid-summer maturing crops, be aware that a few plants will stop producing if their fruit is allowed to get old from lack of harvesting. The plant will put energy into producing fruits and seed rather than more flowers for more fruit. Those specific crops are as follows:
Snap or green beans are harvested when the pods are firm and snap readily, but before the seeds inside develop; the tip of the pod also should be pliable. Harvest will take place every few days. Harvest lima beans when the pod is well filled and the ends spongy. Break open a few to check the size of the seed. Don’t allow pods to turn yellow, which indicates they are too old.
Broccoli is harvested when the main head is still tight and green and the buds compact. Cut with a 5- to 6-inch stem, leaving the side shoots to develop later on. If buds are beginning to turn yellow, harvest immediately. If you let it go too long, the buds will break open and flower. Then, it’s too late.
Cabbage is harvested when the heads are solid. Cut so that you leave a few of the lower, wrapper leaves; additional small heads will develop that can be harvested later. Don’t allow heads to split. If cabbages are maturing too fast and all at the same time, you can give the head a quarter turn to break some roots, slow down the growth and delay maturity a bit.
Carrots should be one-half to 1 inch in diameter and crisp. Look for an orange “shoulder” at the soil surface. You can also pull one or two to see how they are developing.
Watch your sweet corn closely as it nears maturity and protect it from nighttime marauders. Ears should be full to the tip and the silk brown and dry. Puncture a kernel or two at the tip with your thumbnail; the liquid that seeps out should be milky in appearance.
Cucumbers vary by type; some are for pickling and some for slicing. In general, pickles are harvested at 2 to 6 inches in length and at about 8 inches for slicing. The fruit should be dark and uniform green in color, firm and crisp. If you miss a picking and cucumbers are old, dull and yellow, pick them anyway so the plant remains productive.
Eggplant are typically harvested at 6 to 8 inches in length, when the skin is glossy and uniform in color. They are too old if they are dull in color and soft. Cut eggplant with a knife or pruner, leaving the stem and calyx attached to the fruit.
Bell peppers can be harvested at about any size but are usually left on the plant until full size and mature. Most will change from green to a sweeter, more mellow yellow or red pepper, but depending on cultivar, some may be lavender, orange, etc. Cut peppers from the plant with a knife or pruner to retain the stem.
Summer squash are harvested when young. Zucchini and yellow crookneck are harvested at 6 to 8 inches in length and 1-1/2 or 2 inches in diameter. Scallop squash are harvested at just 2 to 4 inches in diameter. Squashes grow and mature rapidly, within four or five days of flowering. If you miss picking one or more on the vine and they get too big, harvest them anyway. Otherwise, the plant stops producing flowers.
Tomatoes can be harvested when pinkish in color and ripened indoors or left on the vine to ripen. Sunlight is not necessary for ripening, but temperatures of 70 to 75 degrees F are. They can be pulled or cut from the vine.
For more information, call the OSU Summit County Extension Hotline Tuesdays or Thursdays between 9 a.m. and noon at (330) 928-4769, ext. 3.
Dayle Davis is a freelance writer and avid perennial gardener, with a B.A. in communications and course work in botany, geology and wildflowers. Davis is certified as a Master Gardener under The Ohio State University’s Horticultural Extension. Readers can send in questions, which could be featured in a future edition. Questions can be e-mailed to kcollins @leaderpublications.com, faxed to (330) 665-0908 or sent to Leader Publications, 3075 Smith Road, Suite 204, Akron, OH 44333.