Given regional differences in climates and crops, harvest time in the garden will vary for every vegetable garden. Whether yours is earlier in the season or later, this is the moment every gardener waits for… the first ruby red tomato, brilliant orange (or purple) carrot, or vibrant green pear – ripe and ready for the picking!
Rewinding back a few weeks, the rear of each seed packet provides valuable information about seed-sowing time and days to harvest. This is an estimation based on average temperatures, but they will set you on the right track. Like regional differences, every crop is different when it comes to harvesting. Some can be left alone and will remain unchanged for several weeks, while others will bolt, grow far too large, or become chalky and flavourless.
Let’s start with tomatoes. You will know a tomato is ripe when it has turned to an even colour on the vine. Simply said, when a tomato is red, it’s ready. This usually happens around 10 weeks from planting. Once ready to harvest, you should monitor your plants daily to pick the ripest tomatoes – and enjoy them straight off the vine like I do.
Another easy crop to grow are radishes. Sown from seed in a sunny spot, these will be ready to harvest in about 2 to 3 weeks. You can tell when your radishes are ready by their red ‘shoulders’ emerging from the soil.
Like radishes, carrots are ready when their shoulders push up over the soil, generally in about 6 weeks from planting. It’s important to harvest carrots when they ripen, as they can split and get woody if left too long in the ground. I use a garden fork when harvesting carrots by digging into the soil beside the carrots and carefully loosening the ground around the crop. Then, I grab a handful of carrot tops as they usually pull out of the soil easily. Is there really anything finer than a freshly pulled carrot, wiped on your jeans, dipped into some fresh rainwater and munched on while you are right in the garden?
The apples and pears in my garden are ready, for the most part, in late summer and early fall. The easiest way to determine if an apple or pear is ripe is to taste it. If it’s not sweet enough, simply wait a while. You’ll know soon enough when you’ve hit that ‘sweet spot’. While there are some late season apples that will taste better in October, most are ready in June. This includes Honeycrisp apples, which you will likely only find at a good pick-your-own apple farm.
Leaf lettuce, arugula, and mesclun mix are common lettuces that are easy and quick to grow. Swiss chard and spinach are also great if you have the room. The best thing about lettuces and greens is that as soon as you see the tender leaves, you can pick them. Go for it, as the more you pick, the more the plant produces. You’ll also stop the plants from bolting to seed and flowering, turning the greens bitter. In my case, any excess goes to the chickens, who love this stuff.
Be sure to enjoy harvest time in your garden and collecting all your prized fruits and vegetables. After months of planting, weeding and watering, you have earned these rewards! When I am harvesting my garden, I like to use the Mark’s Choice wash basket, which makes it easy to gather and rinse my vegetables with a quick spray of the garden hose.
At the end of the season, once you’ve enjoyed all the bounty your garden has provided, pull out and compost all the spent plants. This is also the perfect time to think about rotating your crops, like any good farmer would, when planning your garden for next season.