You’ve been hard at work in your garden all summer long, and now you’re finally ready to enjoy the fruits — and veggies — of your labor. But if you’re not sure whether something is ready to pick or not, be on the lookout for these clues:
Color. Fleshy-fruited veggies like tomatoes, peppers, winter squash, and pumpkins turn color as they ripen. Read your seed packet or catalog description carefully so you know what color to look for (it’s not always what you might expect!)
Gloss. Healthy, growing veggies are shiny and glossy. If their skin is dull, you’ve waited too long. Watermelon is the exception to this rule: When it’s ripe, its skin is dull.
Size. Lots of vegetable crops, including peppers, potatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and leafy greens, are ready to eat whenever they look like they are. If you don’t think you can trust your eyes, then just take a bite. Your taste buds don’t lie.
When you’ve determined it’s time to bring in your bounty, here are a few more guidelines to keep in mind:
- Try to pick your vegetables in the morning, when their sugar content is highest.
- If the plants are wet, give them time to dry off. (Wet plants are more likely to spread disease.
- Take your time and work carefully, because bruised or scratched vegetables spoil quickly, and damaged plants are sitting ducks for pests and diseases.
- Use your fingers to pick thin-stemmed vegetables like peas and beans, and ones that slip easily from the vine like tomatoes.
- Use a sharp knife or clippers to cut tough- or brittle-stemmed crops. Veggies like cabbage, peppers, broccoli, eggplant, and squash can be damaged badly if you try to pull or tear them from their stems.