On this page we offer several tips and techniques for harvesting and storing home garden vegetables. Dig in!
#1 Garden Tool
He that hath a good harvest may be content with some thistles. – John Ray
One of the biggest tricks a gardener can learn is when to harvest vegetables. It’s like that old Gallo wine commercial with Orson Wells intoning in a deep bass voice: “I shall sell no wine before its time.” Determining when it’s time to harvest involves more care than you might think. That’s because there is a difference between a vegetable being “ripe” versus being “ready.”
The rules for when to harvest depend on what vegetables you’re growing. For leaves, stems and some root crops, you want to pick them early – while they’re still at their most tender state. Ever eat woody asparagus? It’s ripe, but it’s so much tastier when picked while it’s young.
Whether pickling, making jam or putting up fresh garden produce, we have the canning supplies you’ll need — jars, caps, lids, pickling spice — to keep the harvest through the winter and beyond.
For vegetables where the “fruit” or “seed-bearing” part of the plant is what you’re eating — tomatoes or peppers — the opposite is true. A tomato may be ready, even red, but it tastes a lot better when it’s picked as ripe as possible and eaten straight from the vine. Learn how to harvest and store tomatoes here.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. Many vegetables can taste better while still young. For example, the French love their petis pois (baby peas) or a small zucchini generally has more flavor and is more tender than one that’s been allowed to grow into a giant.
A lot of when to harvest is just common sense. Herbs usually taste better before they’ve gone to seed. Pick corn when it’s sweeter rather than waiting for it to get old and starchy.
Other veggies can wait it out until you’ve got the time. Root crops, like carrots, onions and potatoes, generally have a larger window of picking opportunity than other vegetables.
First used by New England clammers, these sturdy Harvest Baskets are the perfect blend of art, traditional craftsmanship and utility. Uncommonly sensible — you can harvest, wash and carry your fresh garden veggies all in the same basket.
The best time to harvest is in the morning, right after the dew has dissipated. That’s when your vegetables will have the highest water content. It’s also good to pick vegetables during cloudy days or when you’re going through a cool spell for the same reason. However, if you’re growing grains, you’ll want to harvest when dry.
Before your vegetables are ripe for the picking, round up all the tools that you will need to harvest them. Also, come up with a picking strategy: where will you put all your produce? Is it all going to ripen at once or can you harvest early and often? Do you need a ladder or other special tools to reach or harvest? Finally, you’ll want to know where to store, and how to store, what you’ve picked.
Other garden tools you may want to consider purchasing include:
- Reacher extenders – like a long-handled fruit picker
- A sharp knife
- Clippers, pruning shears or scissors
- A fork, spade or shovel
- Hori Hori Knife
- Containers for the vegetables that you pick.
Steps for Superior Vegetable Storage
Different garden vegetables require different storage conditions. What’s best? Here are some suggestions to help you get started:
Counter Storage. Some vegetables do best just sitting on top of the kitchen counter where they can rest and ripen. These include tomatoes and peppers, as well as fruits such as peaches and plums.
KEEPS CROPS FRESH!
Thicker than the leading brand! True Liberty® Turkey Bags have an excellent aroma barrier and lock in the nutritional value of produce and garden crops. Use them to store vegetables, dried herbs and aftermarket flowers.
Root Cellar. Everybody’s heard of root cellars, right? So it’s no surprise that a cool, dark cellar or basement can be a great place to store cabbage, carrots, beets, potatoes and other root vegetables. Don’t have a root cellar? Some gardeners prefer to store vegetables in the garden. When the ground begins to freeze, root crops can be covered with straw, hay, wood shavings or leaf mulch for protection (see Recipes from the Root Cellar).
The Refrigerator. Using cold for storing home garden vegetables such as lettuce, peas, corn, broccoli, cauliflower, herbs or summer squash slows down their metabolism and preserves them. Use ventilated bags and insert a slightly moistened towel to keep herbs and lettuces moist, but not soggy.
Freezing. Locks in flavor and nutrients by quickly freezing fresh vegetables. Most fruits and vegetables do best if you blanch them in boiling water before freezing.
Canning. Canning is an easy way to preserve highly acidic vegetables such as tomatoes. You can also preserve in brine (think pickles) or in syrup (fruit preserves, sweetened relishes or chutneys). Learn precautions when canning tomatoes here.
Drying. Drying can be a great and easy way to preserve herbs. With a little more work and the help of a food dehydrator, you can dry many fruits and vegetables. Read our article on drying fruits and vegetables to learn more.
To store vegetables successfully, the following environmental conditions must be considered:
Temperature. Cool temperatures (32 to 55°F) help to prevent moisture loss and delays the growth of bacteria and fungi that cause crops to spoil.
Moisture. Stored vegetables quickly shrivel and lose quality without proper moisture. Storage areas must have the humidity raised to reach the ideal 80 to 90 percent relative humidity that most vegetables prefer. A simple humidity gauge, available at most hardware stores, is the best way to measure the relative humidity.
Tip: The most effective way to control moisture loss is to place vegetables in polyethylene bags. Make several 1/4 to 1/3 inch holes in the sides of the bags and liners to allow proper ventilation.
Ventilation. Harvested vegetables “breathe” and require oxygen to maintain their high quality. Wilting and tissue breakdown are minimized by proper air circulation.
AirScape® Bucket Lid
Food storage preservation just moved to the next level with the AirScape Bucket Lid.$19.95Read more
Keeping the Harvest
Discover the homegrown goodness of putting up your own fruits, veggies and herbs.$14.95Read more
Wide Mouth Jars (12pk)
A great choice for larger items like vegetables, pickles, whole fruits and more!$14.95Read more
Hanging Drying Rack
Made of breathable mesh that allows for quick drying and maximum ventilation.$43.95Read more
Pikled Pantry Book
From apples to zucchini, 150 recipes for pickles, relishes, chutneys and more.$19.95Read more
Libbey Jars (12pk)
Keep herbs, spices and tea fresh and secure with Libbey Status Jars. BPA free.$46.50Read more
Sifts your chunky materials into a finely-blended nutrition cocktail for plants.$19.95Read more