I have a few heads of cabbage and broccoli amongst my flower beds, and I check their progress almost daily. One day, recently, I noticed the telltale signs of yellow on the broccoli florets and thought, Uh oh, better harvest these right now before they get over- mature. The next day, one of the cabbage heads started to split, a sure sign that it, too, was ready to be harvested.
Knowing when to harvest your vegetables is as important as knowing how to grow them. Each vegetable has an optimum time for harvest. Some vegetables are quite forgiving in having a long harvest window; others can get tough or bitter almost overnight.
Counting the maturity date of the plant in question doesn’t help as temperature, soil type, amount of water and general growing conditions in your particular garden is unique and can either delay or enhance maturation time.
The best way to determine when it is time to harvest is by the plant characteristics. These signs can be subtle and experience is your best teacher.
Freezing temperatures can also be a factor. (Yes, it’s coming soon!) Some vegetables, such as kale, for example, need a light frost to complete ripening and I find it tastes sweeter after a light freeze (a light freeze is to minus-three degrees; a severe freeze, minus-seven degrees.
Some produce needs to be cured after harvesting, which involves placing them in a warm, dry location so that the outer skin hardens and protects the core from rotting. Potatoes and larger onions are good examples, as well as gladioli bulbs in the flower world.
With harvest well underway, now is the time to enjoy the fruits of your labour.
Ingrid Wilcox operates Lubbock Garden and Floral Consultant and offers gardening, greenhouse and flower-arranging workshops. Contact her at [email protected]