With your fall vegetable garden well under way, an important component is the harvest. Your vegetables will be sending all the signals to time your harvest just right. All you have to do is pay attention.
Cucumbers: Cucumbers should be harvested before they reach 10 inches in length and when the skin is still dark green. Harvesting regularly results in higher plant yields. Older, soft fruit will have hard seeds and poor flavor.
Cabbage: To determine cabbage ripeness, press the head to feel for firmness. If the head is full and firm, it’s ready to harvest. If you wait too long to harvest, the head may split.
Broccoli: Broccoli should be harvested before the flower starts to open or the yellow centers show. Timing for this crop is crucial, because even a delay of a day can cause a reduction in quality and nutritional value. Hot days will increase the ripening time dramatically. Along with the head, 4 to 5 inches of stem below is also tender and can be eaten.
Cauliflower: Heads of cauliflower should be cut when they are fully formed and before the curds develop a rough, spiny appearance. You may see a slight purple during cooler weather; this is normal.
Brussels sprouts: When Brussels sprouts are an inch in diameter, snap or cut them from the stem. New sprouts will develop on the stem above. Don’t underestimate this fall vegetable. Cold-tolerant sprouts may continue into December.
Summer squash: Summer squash should be harvested during immaturity, before the skin and seeds have toughened. Preferable length is 6 to 10 inches. Check your squash regularly, because they are fast growers.
Leafy greens: If harvesting the heading types of lettuce, cut the heads slightly above ground level and remove the damaged, dirty or excess leaves. For leaf lettuce, remove only the full-sized leaves so the plant will continue to produce.
Beets: Beet harvest depends on personal preference. Although beets with a diameter larger than 2 inches can be tough, smaller beets can be harvested for a variety of uses. If canning, beets should be harvested smaller, while harvest for other uses can be allowed to grow larger. Beet tops also can be harvested and eaten as a salad green.
Carrots: Dig or pull the roots when they are the diameter you want for your uses. Carrot tops can be eaten.
Beans: Bean pods should be crisp at harvest, but the seeds shouldn’t be significantly enlarged. Harvest should be done when the beans are dry, not wet from dew because that will increase the spread of bacterial blight.
Remember: When production drops, especially for squash, cleaning up the plants is helpful to discourage pests overwintering. Protecting leafy greens can prolong their harvest and may allow them to overwinter completely, depending on temperatures and the plant itself.
Ariel Whitely is the horticulture agent for Shawnee County Research and Extension.