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When to Harvest Vegetables

More Guidelines for When to Pick Your Vegetables

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Rows of Heirloom Lettuce

Rows of Heirloom Lettuce

Marie Iannotti
  • Muskmelon: There are many varieties of muskmelon, but a general rule of thumb is that the color should change to beige and the fruit will ‘slip’ from the vine when lifted. You should also be able to notice a sweet smell when ripe.

  • Onions: Onions can be dug once the tops have ripened and fallen over. Allow the onions to dry in the sun.

  • Parsnips: Parsnips taste best if they are left in the ground until after a frost or two. They can be left in the ground over the winter and harvested in the spring. In cold areas, they should be mulched for the winter.

  • Peas: The pea pods should look and feel full. Peas are sweeter if harvested before fully plumped. Peas really need to be tasted to determine if they are sweet enough.

  • Potatoes: ‘New’ potatoes can be harvested when the tops start to flower. Carefully dig at the outer edges of the row. For full size potatoes, wait until the tops of the potato plants dry and turn brown. Start digging from the outside perimeter and move in cautiously to avoid slicing into potatoes.

  • Pumpkins: Once the pumpkins have turned the expected color and the vines are starting to decline, check to make sure the skin has hardened enough that poking it with your fingernail will not crack it. You don’t want to pick your pumpkin too soon, because it will stop turning orange once it’s cut, but don't leave them out if a hard frost is expected.

  • Radishes: Radishes mature quickly. You will see the shoulders of the bulbs popping out of the soil line. If left too long, they will become tough and eventually go to seed.

  • Rutabaga: The bulbs should be about 3 inches in diameter, generally about 3 months after setting out. Rutabagas can be mulched, left in the ground and dug up as needed. Cold weather improves their flavor.

  • Swiss Chard: As with leaf lettuce. Cut the outer leaves and allow the center to continue growing.

  • Spinach: Spinach goes to seed quickly. Harvest by cutting at the soil line before you see a flower stalk beginning to shoot up.

  • Squash (Summer): Pick young and check often. The skins should be tender enough to poke your fingernail through.

  • Squash (Winter): Color is a good indicator of winter squash maturity. When the squash turns the color it is supposed to be, cut from the vine. Do not let winter squash be exposed to frost.

  • Tomatoes: Harvest tomatoes when they are fully colored and slightly soft to the touch. Gently twist and pull from the vine.

  • Turnips: The turnip shoulders should be about 2 to 2 ½ inches in diameter at the soil line, when ready. Harvest once they reach maturity. Overripe turnips become woody.

  • Watermelon: The white spot on the bottom of the melon should change to a deep yellow when ripe. Some people can hear a change in the sound made when the melon is thumped with a finger. It should make a hollow sound when ripe, but this is a skill that must be developed.
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