Harvest Blog

Gardening: Tasty produce depends on harvest

If your edible garden has survived this summer’s hail, bugs, wind, heat and downpours, you deserve congratulations.

The quest for delicious results isn’t quite over yet, though, because one challenge still remains:

When should you harvest?

Pick too soon and you’ll miss peak flavor.

Wait, though, and fruits and vegetables can turn tough or mushy, taste can decline and insect or animal pests can wreak havoc.

Thankfully, tips and answers abound in a new book — “Growing Perfect Vegetables,” from the Square Foot Gardening Foundation — and on university extension websites with advice for home gardeners.

With most types of produce, a few universal rules apply. Check your garden often, because the interval between under- and overripe can be brief. (This practice also helps you stay on top of any diseases, insects or other problems.)

Harvest in the cool of the morning, when produce is more succulent.

Here are some tips on what’s ripening right now in Ohio.

• Corn’s window of perfection is a small but glorious one.

“Almost half the sugar in the kernels will be converted into starch within the first day after harvest,” according to “Growing Perfect Vegetables.”

So when the kernels are plump and the silks are dry, harvest the ears and waste not a minute before cooking. You’ll be rewarded with a burst of sweetness found in no store.

• Cucumbers need frequent monitoring, because once they start maturing, they’re juggernauts.

Optimum size varies with cultivar, so consult the label or seed packet.

In general, the best ones are firm and green. If they start yellowing or softening, sorry, but that cucumber train has left the station.

• Greens, which run the gamut from kale to lettuce to arugula, can be picked at varying stages of maturity, depending on how they’ll be used.

For tender leaves that will be eaten raw, harvest greens when young and delicate. If you’re planning to cook — with spinach, for example — you can wait till the plant grows larger.

• Herbs might possess delicate flavors, but they’re quite flexible about harvest time.

Annuals or perennials, young plants or mature giants, most just keep on growing anytime you snip or pluck.

Whether you harvest basil, chives or others, however, use them right away for top flavor.

• Tomatoes develop a mouthwatering aroma when ripe, so practice patience if you don’t smell anything yet.

Another clue: weight.

“A ripe tomato will always feel heavier than it looks,” explains “Growing Perfect Vegetables.”

Above all, shun the refrigerator, which ruins taste and texture.

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