Home > Cooking Vegetables > Managing the Harvest

Managing the Harvest

By: Lynn Jones - Updated: 7 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Harvest Planning Managing Early

There are four steps to a successful harvest: proper garden planning, timing when to pick, storing vegetables to keep them fresh, and choosing the right method to preserve the crop's flavour.

In this article, we'll discuss how to plan for a successful harvest, general harvesting guidelines, and how to store food in preparation for preserving. See "When to Harvest Your Vegetables" for when to pick specific vegetables. Separate preservation articles cover freezing, canning, and pickling.

Planning for a Successful Harvest

The first step to a successful harvest is to plan your garden. Determine the desired yield for each vegetable. Don't grow more than you and your family - and friends and neighbours - can eat. See "Planning Your Vegetable Garden" for advice.The second step also starts at the planning stage. Choose several varieties of the same vegetable that mature at different times. Plant early, midseason, and late season varieties of tomatoes, for example, to stagger the harvest. This not only provides you with fresh tomatoes throughout the growing season, but it keeps you from having more tomatoes than you can eat, process, or give away at any given time.

Successive plantings of a single crop can accomplish the same purpose: for example, planting a row of lettuce every two to three weeks. Another option is to select varieties that bear over a long period of time rather than all at once, such as pole beans.

Even if you've planned ahead and spread out the harvest, you'll still have times when you have more produce to harvest than you can eat or have time to process. In a pinch, you can tray freeze many vegetables. See "Freezing Your Vegetables" for instructions.

Time to Harvest

In general, try to harvest during the coolest part of the day - either early morning or late afternoon. Harvest when crops are dry.
If you're harvesting a vegetable for fresh eating, pick it just before mealtime. This preserves its flavour and nutrients. The sugars in the vegetable start turning to starch within minutes of harvesting. Pick an ear of corn and pop it straight into the cooking pot, for example, for optimum sweetness. If you're harvesting a vegetable for preserving, harvest it as soon before processing as possible.

Pick Early and Often

Many vegetables should be picked young, when they're at their sweetest. As vegetables mature, their sugar turns to starch. Root crops can become bitter and woody if grown too large. Check days to maturity and expected root size of each variety to gauge the best time to pick root vegetables.

With many vegetables, the more you pick, the more they'll produce. Fruiting vegetables such as cucumbers contain the seeds for the next generation. As soon as there are enough mature seeds, the plant gets the signal to stop producing fruit. If you keep picking the fruit while its seeds are still immature, the plant is tricked into thinking it needs to keep producing more fruit to propagate itself.

When Older is Better

Some crops should be harvested at maturity. Winter squash and tomatoes, for example, should be left to ripen on the vine. Some vegetables, such as carrots, can be harvested at any stage.

Don't Let Them Bolt

When the heat of summer hits, the natural tendency of cool-weather crops such as flowering brassicas and leafy greens is to reproduce and go to seed, or bolt. Pick these vegetables before they bolt and become bitter or otherwise unusable.

Storage Space

Finding a place to store all your produce during the peak harvesting season can be a challenge. Most vegetables, with the exception of tomatoes, can be refrigerated for a short period of time before processing.

A cooler or other insulated container filled with ice is a good temporary option if your refrigerator is full. Keep your freezer well-stocked with ice - either cubes or water-filled plastic containers with screw-top lids - to use for this purpose.

See the article "Vegetable Refrigeration and Storage" for more cold-keeping ideas and for tips on storing winter squash and root vegetables.

With a little knowledge and planning, you can make your life a lot easier at harvest time!

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
[Add a Comment]
Why do my cleaned and cut into stick cucumbers get so slimey after a couple ofdays in the refrig.I store them in a plastic bag.Lettuce turns brown after I clean and tear into pieces and put in plastic bag.I have crispers and have them on low hum. I hate to waste food when this happens.
Susie - 7-Sep-12 @ 8:12 PM
Hi Bill, Im growing cucumbers, I have six plants growing, they where coming along nicely about 8 inches tall, and the leaves have started going white, I am growing them outside,is it anything to worry about, please can you help, thankyou Bri.
Bri - 8-Jul-12 @ 1:12 PM
Our article 'When to Harvest Your Vegetables' in the Cooking Vegetables section should be a useful read.
Bill - 7-Jul-11 @ 9:49 AM
Any recommendations for info on how to know when to pick various veg?
Bill - 6-Jul-11 @ 3:11 PM
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice...
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word:
Latest Comments
  • Rabby
    Re: Pickling Onions and Shallots
    I've been doing my own pickled onions for myself and my family for 30 years and I di them the same every year . I have about 10 of…
    16 February 2017
  • MrsF
    Re: Pickling Onions and Shallots
    I've done my 1st jars of onions today using 1/2 a 4kg pack of Parrish's onions. I'm using Sarsons pickling vinegar with…
    30 October 2016
  • Silverfox
    Re: Pickling Onions and Shallots
    When making a brine for pickles you need a tablespoon of salt for every pint of water, leave pickles in for no more than 24hrs. 3…
    28 October 2016
  • Pickles
    Re: Pickling Onions and Shallots
    I live in Spain and am having great difficulty in buying pickleing onions, anyone got any idea where I can buy them as I need…
    16 October 2016
  • Ian
    Re: Pickling Onions and Shallots
    Hi, I am in the process of doing some pickle onions. Yesterday I made a brine solution with approx 5 ltrs water and went a bit…
    5 October 2016
  • Minety15
    Re: Pickling Onions and Shallots
    Hi, I've been given a jar of pickled shallots and they are soft, does anyone know if it's possible to crisp them up again…
    30 September 2016
  • Iron Horse Cowboy
    Re: Growing Squash and Pumpkins
    Hello. Will Spaghetti Squash and Sweet Baby Pumpkins cross pollinate? I have something that looks like a squash on my…
    8 August 2016
  • Rehbok
    Re: Growing Squash and Pumpkins
    I have planted a few butternut squash on my newly acquired allotment and they are going mad! I have loads of squash forming on each…
    28 July 2016
  • JoJo
    Re: Pickling Onions and Shallots
    @Hannah - I prefer dry salt rather than brine. Leave them for 24 hours then rinse ,dry and bottle. Your next batch should be good,…
    10 November 2015
  • Hannah
    Re: Pickling Onions and Shallots
    I have been on a rampage of pickling onions, The recipe I have is to top and tail the onions, leaving the skins on for removal…
    9 November 2015
Further Reading...
Our Most Popular...
Add to my Yahoo!
Add to Google
Stumble this
Add to Twitter
Add To Facebook
RSS feed
You should seek independent professional advice before acting upon any information on the VegetableExpert website. Please read our Disclaimer.