University of Florida

The Neighborhood Gardener –
Harvesting and Storing Vegetables

Harvesting Vegetables

Harvesting your vegetables at the right time is an important part of gardening success. It can be tricky to determine when vegetables are ready to be picked. Harvesting too late or too early is a common problem for vegetable growers, which results in poor quality produce.

Research your vegetables to find out how many days it takes that type to mature. The Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide lists the "days to harvest" for each vegetable listed. Keep track of what date you planted your garden and then count forward based on whether you planted seeds or transplants.  Store-purchased seedlings are usually sold when they are about 4 weeks old. The days to harvest range for each plant is usually accurate. However, each garden has its own microclimate and you’ll want to test a few vegetables from your garden for readiness before you complete a full harvest. Freshness, flavor, and quality of your vegetables depend on the maturity stage of then they are picked.

Harvest vegetables in the cool part of the morning if possible and then store them as soon as possible to preserve freshness. Each vegetable has certain qualities when it is eady to be harvested. Okaloosa County Extension provides a great vegetable readiness checklist.  For example, winter squash should be harvested when rinds cannot easily be dented by a fingernail and tomatoes should be harvested when in full color and still firm.

Storing Vegetables

There are many different options for storing your vegetables after they’ve been harvested. Most veggies should be put in your refrigerator or eaten within a few hours after being picked. Other options include canning and freezing vegetables you don’t plan on using for a while. Visit the UF/IFAS Food Storage and Preservation site for further storing instructions.

Most crops can be harvested more than once so keep up with gathering at proper maturity. Carefully handle produce after harvesting to avoid bruising or damage which can cause decay. Keep an eye on your plants for signs of yellowing leaves or possible diseases while harvesting.  It takes practice and experience to know exactly when your vegetables will be at their peak. Harvest at the right time and you are sure to have a kitchen full of flavorful, nutritional veggies!

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