Gardening Guide: When and How to Harvest

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Rachel Bauer
April 27, 2023 (Last Updated: ) | Reading Time: 10 minutes

My favorite part of gardening is harvest time. I love going out to the garden in the morning and picking fresh lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, and other vegetables. It is always so surprising to see the many delicious treats out there. As a kid, I remember picking green beans at my grandparents' house and I really enjoyed spending time with them. For me, there is a comforting feeling that goes along with just being in the garden.

I especially love to eat the fresh produce from the garden. I visited the local farmer's market about 10 years ago, when we did not grow any lettuce that year (we were remodeling and moving), and was shocked at the price they were asking for a bag of lettuce greens. I did end up buying a bag of greens since that was the reason for my visit that day. However, it was about four times what I had expected to pay. I'm sure the price has gone up even more since then. Anyway, I now value produce from the garden even more, and getting to eat it fresh and right away is the best.

Full spectrum harvest with tomatoes, lemon, lemon cucumbers, basil, broccoli, blueberries, and eggplants.
Full spectrum harvest with tomatoes, lemon, lemon cucumbers, basil, broccoli, blueberries, and eggplants.

There are many things to harvest from the garden like leafy greens, strawberries, peas, beans, tomatoes, and zucchini. Some are harvested a little at a time and others are harvested all at once. Some are harvested and eaten right away and others can be stored to use later. Plants are harvested at different times and in different ways based on the type of vegetable.

Over the years, I have learned a lot about harvesting in my garden. Here are some tips that I can share to help you get the most out of your garden.

When to Harvest

The first thing to consider is when to harvest. Different varieties will have varying maturity dates and the sizes of the produce will vary. Look carefully at the seed packet or plant tag to see how long it will take for the plant to mature. Some varieties are smaller and ready to harvest sooner. So make sure that you have a good idea of what to look for. You certainly don't want to miss the prime-picking window.

How to Harvest

The next thing to consider is how to harvest. Harvest your produce in a way that will not damage the plant or the produce.

Morning harvest of cucmbers, zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes.
Morning harvest of cucmbers, zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes.

A plant's ideal growth is not necessarily the goal for us as gardeners. Our goal is to consume fruits and vegetables and get the most from our plants. If left alone, plants will produce massive over-ripe fruit. As gardeners, we can encourage plants to produce the fruits and vegetables that we like. This usually means we are picking the fruit well before the plant is done growing it. This works for peppers, strawberries, and zucchini. Also, for some plants, the more you harvest the more you get. This is true for cucumbers, zucchini, beans, peas, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.

Harvesting leaf vegetables:

Harvesting cole crop vegetables:

Harvesting fruiting vegetables:

Lineup of jalapeno peppers.
Lineup of jalapeno peppers.
Eggplant harvest of our favorite variety, Ichiban.
Eggplant harvest of our favorite variety, Ichiban.

Harvesting root vegetables:

How to Store

Some garden produce is consumed right away and some can be stored. If you have more produce than you can eat, storing it may be a good option. Lots of gardeners enjoy storing their produce to use later. Canning, freezing, and dehydrating are popular storage options. Some produce can be stored in a cool dry place for quite some time.

We make pesto with our basil at the end of the growing season and then freeze it. We pour the pesto out onto a cookie sheet, freeze it, then break it into chunks and store it in a plastic bag in the freezer. When you are ready to eat it, just take a piece out and thaw it. We use it this way as a topping for pizza, salads, and pasta.

How to Share the Excess

The last thing to consider is how to share your harvest. In our garden, we often have a lot of produce that we can't eat all at once. If this is the case for you as well, you can share your harvest with friends and family. You can also share your harvest with your local food pantry. If your neighbors and friends also enjoy gardening, you can form informal CSA-type groups and swap your excess vegetables.

Harvesting can be enjoyable

Harvesting can be a time-consuming part of gardening. To make harvesting more enjoyable, you can break up the work into smaller tasks that are easier to manage. You can also involve your friends and family. This can make the work go faster and it can be a fun way to spend time together. It is especially helpful when you have a large amount of produce to harvest.

Break it up into smaller tasks so it is easier to manage

When it is time to harvest, you can think of it in a series of smaller tasks so that it does not seem like very much work. By breaking it up into smaller tasks it can be easier to manage. Each task can be done at a different time, so you can spread your effort out over many days. Think about gathering, sorting, sharing, and storing as separate tasks.

Early summer harvest of tomatoes, zucchini, cucmbers, and strawberries.
Early summer harvest of tomatoes, zucchini, cucmbers, and strawberries.

Invite friends and family to help

As the saying goes, many hands make light work. If you have children, they can be very helpful with this. They can also learn to really like gardening and to enjoy spending that time with you. Invite your friends over for a work party, spend some time harvesting in the garden, and then enjoy sharing a meal with them. You can send them home with some of the bounty as a thank-you for their help.

Morning harvest of tomatoes.
Morning harvest of tomatoes.

Remember these tips when you are ready to start harvesting your garden:

I hope this helps you to enjoy harvest time in your garden like I do. Share your favorite harvest hacks in the comments below.

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