HARVESTING AT THE RIGHT TIME
GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Published July 17, 2016
Vegetable gardening is a lot of work, but it is worth it to be able to pick fresh nutritious produce right from the garden. However, not everyone knows when or how to harvest vegetables at the “peak of perfection.” Since many warm season vegetables are starting to become ripe, let’s talk about harvesting and care of just-picked veggies.
Summer Squash: Zucchini and yellow summer squash are best harvested when they immature and only 4 to 7 inches long. To pick the fruit, cut them off the vine using garden shears or a knife. If allowed to grow larger and more mature, their skin gets tougher and the seeds get bigger and harder. After harvesting wash the fruit with clean water and then use immediately or store in vegetable bin of the refrigerator. They will only store for a week or less.
It is important to harvest your fruit as soon as they reach the right stage because it promotes the production of more fruit. However, you and I know there is always one zucchini on the plant that hides and grows to gargantuan proportions. Sometimes these are thrown out or given away, but creative cooks will remove the hardened seeds and stuff the fruit for baking, chop it up for use in soup, or grate it for adding to zucchini bread or tomato sauce.
Onions: Dry onions are ready to harvest when most of their tops have fallen over. When this happens, it means the onions are done bulbing and will not get any bigger. To harvest, carefully pull them out of the ground and shake off as much soil as possible. In heavier soils the onions may not pull easily so lift them out of the soil using a spading fork. Then “cure” or dry the harvested bulbs in a shaded location with good air circulation. Once their roots are dry and the skins become dry and papery, cut the tops off about two inches from the bulb and store them in mesh bags under dark, dry, cool (32 to 40 degrees) conditions. Keep in mind that sweet onions, such as Walla Walla Sweets, do not store well. Yellow onions store the best, followed by red and white onions. Of course, you do not need to worry about curing or storing the onions if you want to eat them immediately.
Both the green stems and immature bulbs of green onions or scallions are harvested whenever they reach the desired size. Wash green onions thoroughly with cool, clean water before eating. Because they are immature, green onions do not store well and should be kept in the refrigerator and used within a week of harvest.
Cucumbers: Like their summer squash cousins, cucumbers are harvested when they are immature and before their seeds fully develop. Cut them off the vine leaving 1/4 inch of stem attached to the fruit. The correct size for harvesting depends on the cultivar and their intended end-use, with pickling cucumbers tending to be smaller than those cultivars for salads and fresh eating. Check the cultivar seed packet or catalog to find out the correct size for harvesting. Mature cucumbers are undesirable because they have tough skin, bigger seeds, and often a bitter flavor. Harvest your cukes regularly to promote continued bloom and fruit production. After harvesting, wash the fruit and then store them in the refrigerator for a week or less.
Harvesting melons can be tricky, so we will tackle that topic another time.