Getting to harvest your plants is exciting in itself: you’ve come so far in growing them! The most important part of harvesting is understanding the right time to pick your bounty so you can get the most optimal flavor and nutritional value. Your seed packet is one of your best resources; they indicate how many days till harvest! It’s hard to remember all of those numbers, so we recommend setting a reminder of the harvest date in your phone, notebook, or adding to a DIY crop marker.
Your hands are your best tools, but other ones to consider include:
- Large Shovel: used to loosen the soil.
- Scissors: used to harvest baby greens, pea shoots, squashes, cucumbers, fresh herbs, and flowers.
- Harvest Knife: an alternative to scissors (used similarly).
- Basket: to collect your bounty!
Each plant ripens in its own way, on its own time, and harvesting might be as simple as plucking a cherry tomato right off the vine (we recommend continuing to your mouth in one smooth motion) or you might need to get into the dirt and dig. Harvesting tips for some common veggies are listed below. If you’re growing a fruit or vegetable you don’t see here, you might still find some useful tips in the harvesting videos (mixed with a little web searching).
You can find all of this information and more in our handy HARVESTING TABLE
- When? The top of the root is at least a half-inch in diameter (ideally the size of a quarter).
- How? If your soil is hard, use a trowel to loosen the soil before pulling out your carrot. If you don’t have a trowel—simply push the carrot straight into the ground before pulling out your carrot!
- Tip: Thin out carrots as they grow to give them space to grow.
- Video: harvesting carrots
- When? Harvest anytime before they start to swell and grow in width.
- How? Twist and cut right above the fruit.
- When: When it has 3 sets of leaves and is over 6” tall.
- How: Cut just above the second set of leaves.
- Tip: The best part of your basil plant is the top.
- Video: trimming and topping basil.
- When: When they’re firm and very red.
- How: Pick off the vine.
- When: Most chilis mature from green to red. But, you can also pick them earlier for a milder flavor!
- How: Pinch and twist stem right above the fruit.
- Video: harvesting peppers.
- When: You can begin trimming it pretty much right away. Fresh leaves = more flavor.
- How: Trim sections off of the stem.
- Video: harvesting fresh herbs.
- When: When the leaves reach your desired size. But, don’t wait until the leaves are too large because it can cause a bitter taste.
- How: Pick off the leaves one at a time as needed or harvest everything at once, and cut them at the base.
- Video: harvesting spinach.
- When: Root is about 1″ in diameter.
- How: Pull out of the ground!
- Video: harvesting radishes.
Are you harvesting on a hot or sunny day? Some produce can spoil or wilt quickly once it’s been picked. Move your harvest to a cool spot as soon as you can manage to.
- High Risk: Lettuces, pea shoots, hearty greens (kale, collards, chard), flowers, herbs.
- Medium/Low Risk: Root Veggies, onions, peas, beans, broccoli, summer squash.
- No-Risk: Tomatoes, peppers, garlic, strawberries, pumpkins/other winter squash.
- Smaller, more frequent harvests may be a better solution than a single large harvest day. Fresh produce often will not last long once harvested so the best way to eat your fresh produce is to plan ahead of time for how you will eat the produce, and then harvest it soon before eating.
- Extend the life of harvested potatoes and onions by storing them in a cold, dark area such as a pantry. Tomatoes do not have to be refrigerated either and can be left out on the counter.
- Separate the green leafy tops of roots vegetables and store separately to help both parts keep best.
- Some produce, like leafy greens, delicate herbs, and root veggies will hold up better if harvested in the morning rather than in the heat of the afternoon.