Vegetables

Knowing How to Harvest Each Vegetable

Larry Hodgson published thousands of articles and 65 books over the course of his career, in both French and English. His son, Mathieu, has made it his mission to make his father’s writings accessible to the public. This text was originally published in Le Soleil on July 31, 1993.


The art of vegetable gardening isn’t just about knowing how to plant, weed and water. It’s also about knowing exactly when to harvest, so you get sweet, succulent vegetables that keep well. Here are a few tips on how to do it with the most popular vegetables.

Tomato

For the best taste, pick tomatoes when they are fully orange-red. If frost is threatening, the fruit can be harvested before ripening, but the flavor will be diminished: this is the flavor of “store tomatoes”, which have been picked before ripening, because at this stage they are more resistant to transport. Place immature tomatoes that have begun to change color in a warm, damp place, preferably in the dark (in a brown paper bag, for example). Exposing them to the sun on a windowsill will only cause them to lose liquid, resulting in less succulent fruit. You can eat these “artificially ripened” tomatoes once they have turned red. Tomatoes picked green will never ripen: use them as “green tomatoes” in ketchups.

Photo: Eva Bronzini

Corn

Corn is ripe when its silks are brown and the kernels are full of sap. Mash a kernel and if “milk” comes out, it’s ripe. No vegetable loses its flavor as quickly as corn. Preferably, pick only a few hours before eating. Our ancestors used to say that you should start boiling the water before harvesting “corn”… and they weren’t entirely wrong!

Bean

Harvest beans in dry weather, cutting off the pods with shears rather than pulling them out, so as not to uproot the plant by accident. The bean is ripe when the pod is well formed, but still young. If the seeds can be clearly distinguished by the swelling they produce through the husk, the pod is overripe and the bean will taste mushy. Harvest regularly, every three days or so, to stimulate the bean plant to produce more.

Cucumber

Cucumbers should be picked while still immature, when they have reached the desired size, but before they turn yellow, as they then become bitter. Regular harvesting stimulates continuous production throughout the summer.

Onion

Fresh onions can be harvested at any time. For storage onions, wait until the bulb is fully mature. When the leaves begin to fall and turn yellow on their own, this is a sign that maturity has been reached. Then lay the remaining leaves on the ground… but leave the bulbs in place for a few weeks, until their skins become paper-dry. You can then bring them in for the winter.

Carrot

For immediate consumption, carrots can be harvested at any time, once the root has reached the desired size (and don’t forget that “baby carrots” can be eaten). However, for storage carrots, harvest in autumn. Carrots will be sweeter if the ground has begun to freeze.

Photo: Markus Spiske

Zucchini

Don’t wait too long, as zucchini is at its best before ripening, when its seeds are still embryonic. When the fruit measures 18 to 20 cm (8″) by 3 to 4 cm (1-1/2″), it should be ready. Harvest them two or three times a week to stimulate continuous production. Use a sharp knife for harvesting, as tearing off the fruit can damage the plant.

And there you have it! Many expert secrets about harvesting vegetables.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, laidbackgardener.blog will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

2 comments on “Knowing How to Harvest Each Vegetable

  1. What about potatoes ?

    • tubers start to form when the plants are flowering. You can carefully root around under the plants for new potatoes or wait for the plants to die down, leave for about a week for the tubers to cure their skins then dig up.

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