You've done the planning and the planting, carefully cared for and watered your crops- now all that's left is to harvest and enjoy your hard work! With proper harvesting and storage you can keep your harvest fresh until next season.
(Pssst... You might notice we didn't include any harvest dates in this article. That's because what time you harvest a crop has a multitude of factors. When did you sow the seeds, or plant the starts? Has the weather been consistent or record-breaking hot? Did you fertilize a little or a lot? There is also harvest variance between different varieties of the same crop. The best way to give yourself a timeline for when to expect your harvest is to look at the "Days to Maturity" often written on seed packets and tags and jot that date down in your calendar. Use it as a guide, not a rule, and let your plants tell you when they are ready to harvest using our harvesting tips below.)
Harvesting: For the best tasting artichokes, harvest when the head is still tight and compact. Once the petals of the artichoke head start to open (when the plant is getting ready to flower) they will no longer be tender enough to eat. The stem of the artichoke should still be green at the time of harvest. Use a sharp garden knife or pruners to cut the head of the artichoke from the plant.
Storage: Fresh artichokes can live in the coldest part of your fridge for about a week. To store the hearts of the artichoke you can freeze them or marinate them. To freeze, remove the petals on the artichoke until the light colored, tender petals are visible. Trim remaining artichoke into a cone shape, removing the top of the bud. Wash artichokes in cold water then blanch for 6 to 8 minutes. Cool, drain and pack in freezer safe containers. Artichokes will stay fresh up to 12 months while frozen.
Harvesting: Asparagus is ready to be harvested once the spears are about 5 to 10 inches above the ground. Simply cut or snap them off as close to the ground as you can. You want to harvest before the tops of the asparagus start to flower and go to seed.
Storage: Asparagus can be dried, canned or frozen. To freeze, blanch trimmed asparagus for 1.5 to 3 minutes, depending on thickness of stalks. Cool, drain and pack in storage containers. Frozen asparagus can last up to 12 months. To store in the fridge place the ends of stalks in a glass with a few inches of water to keep them from drying out or shriveling.
Harvesting: For the best flavor you should harvest beans once they grow 5 to 7 inches in length. Check your crop every few days during the harvest period for maximum yield. You can use your thumbnail to pinch the bean from the vine.
Storage: Beans can be pickled, canned, dried or frozen- the possibilities are almost endless for this versatile crop. Store unwashed beans in a container in the crisper section of your refrigerator for up to seven days.
Harvesting: Beets can be harvested at any size, but have peak flavor when they are under 4 inches. Brush away dirt right under the green growth (which you can also harvest!) to check the root size. Beets should be a vibrant color at the time of harvest. This color will vary depending on variety.
Storage: Canned, dried, pickled or turned into a relish, there are many ways to enjoy beets long after you harvest. Beets can also keep fresh in the refrigerator for up to three months! Store in a perforated container in the crisper drawers.
Harvesting: Harvest broccoli while the main head of the plant is still tight. It's common for homegrown broccoli to have smaller heads than that of the ones you'll find in the grocery store, so don't wait for them to get too large or they may start to separate and go to seed. Side shoots from the main plant (sprouting broccoli) can be harvested as they appear.
Storage: A popular storage method is blanching & freezing. To do this add chopped broccoli to boiling water for 1 - 2 minutes, then immediately transfer to an ice bath. Dry well and freeze in airtight containers. Full heads of broccoli store longer in the fridge than chopped broccoli, so avoid cutting them up until you're ready to use. Fresh broccoli will stay fresh for about 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator.
Harvesting: The heads should be firm and vibrant green at the time of harvest. Some gardeners believe leaving the sprouts on until the first frost increases their sweetness. Grab the Brussels Sprout firmly and twist to remove it from the stalk. When harvesting the entire stalk, use a sharp blade or shear. (Growing Tip: Once the Brussels Sprouts become the size of large peas, remove the lower leaves on the plant to help focus energy on producing the crop.)
Storage: Brussels Sprouts can be frozen to extend their shelf life up to 12 months. Blanch between 3 to 5 minutes (depending on size) then cool, drain and pack into storage containers or freezer bags. To store in the refrigerator place untrimmed and unwashed Brussels Sprouts in a plastic bag or container and use within 3 to 4 days. You can store Brussels Sprouts both off and on the stalk.
Harvesting: Harvest while heads are tight and solid. Waiting too long can lead to cracking, which will alter the flavor of your cabbage as well as provide a space for bugs to invade your crop. Use a sharp blade to cut the head of cabbage at the base.
Storage: Freezing, sauerkraut and relish are great options for storing cabbage. You can store fresh heads of unwashed cabbage in the coolest part of your refrigerator for up to 4 months. Avoid removing outer leaves before storing.
Harvesting: Carrots can be harvested as soon as they are big enough to eat, though leaving them in to mature to full size will increase your yields. Grab the top green growth and pull straight up. (Growing Tip: If your carrots are warped or intertwined it just means they were planted too close together. Remember to thin your carrot starts once you start to see green growth emerge from the soil. Good news? They still taste delicious!)
Storage: Carrots can be stored in the refrigerator, in sand or even in the ground! To keep carrots crisp for up to a week you can store them fully submerged in water in the fridge. If you plan to store them in the ground, cover with a few inches of straw to keep the ground from freezing. Freezing, canning and dehydrating are other storage options to consider.
Harvesting: Similar to broccoli, you want to harvest when the head of the cauliflower is still tight before it begins to loosen and go to seed. Unlike broccoli, however, once you have harvested the head of cauliflower that plant is finished and can be removed from your garden.
Storage: Another great candidate for freezing, cauliflower can be chopped, blanched for 1 to 2 minutes, dried off and put into airtight freezer bags or containers. Frozen cauliflower stays fresh for up to 12 months. To store in the fridge wrap heads in paper towels, or other absorbent material to keep excess moisture at bay, then place head in a plastic bag or container and use within a week.
Harvesting: To check corn for ripeness you want to pay close attention to the silks, the bit of hair-like growth that grows out of the ear. Once they have turned brown and can easily be pulled from the corn you are ready to harvest. You will also want to make sure that the ear feels full beneath the husk.
Storage: Freshly harvested corn stays fresh for 5 to 7 days stored in the refrigerator. Corn can also be frozen, creamed, canned, and dried for prolonged storage. Be sure to follow a trusted storage recipe to the letter.
Harvesting: Large slicing cucumbers should be harvested when they are between 6 to 8 inches. Some larger varieties can be harvested closer to 14 inches. If you plant to pickle your cucumbers avoid letting them get larger than 4 inches. Snip or pinch cucumbers from the vine.
Storage: Cucumbers are best eaten fresh or pickled and will last in the fridge for about a week after being harvested from the garden.
Harvesting: Garlic is ready when all but two of the green growth has yellowed and fallen over, this ensures that the membrane holding the cloves together is still in tact, allowing for proper storage.
Storage: Remove dirt and let bulbs cure in the sun for up to 2 weeks before storing in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months.
Remember to write down the date on items you preserve and store them in the order they need to be used by. Jot down notes in your calendar for an extra reminder.
Harvesting: Herbs should be harvested in the late summer, right before they start to bloom in the early part of the day. The oils in the herbs will be at their highest then, giving the herbs the most flavor.
Storage: Pat's favorite method of storing herbs is to coarsely chop them, place them into ice cube trays, cover them with water and freeze. You can also dry them (see image) and store in air tight
containers or jars, freeze them whole in storage bags, or keep fresh herbs in the fridge by placing their stems in water then covering the top of the plants with a storage bag or container with air flow. Frozen herbs will last up to 12 months while dried herbs can stay fresh for 3 years, and fresh herbs stored in the fridge may last a few weeks.
Harvesting: You can harvest the outer leaves of your kale plants (which will allow them to keep growing) at any time or harvest the entire head at once. Kale can be eaten at any size, though the leaves will get tougher as they age.
Storage: Kale is best when eaten fresh and can be stored in the refrigerator for about a week wrapped in a tea towel or paper towels to reduce excess moisture. Some people also dehydrate their kale and turn it into a powder to sprinkle on food.
Harvesting: Much like kale, you can harvest both the outer leaves of lettuce or the entire head at once. To keep your leaf lettuce plants producing, harvest the outermost leaves leaving about and inch of growth towards the crown of the plant. Unharvested lettuce will bolt and go to seed and the leaves will taste bitter.
Storage: Lettuce is best used fresh and stored in the refrigerator wrapped in a tea towel or paper towels to reduce moisture, then placed in a plastic storage bag or container. It can stay fresh 7 to 10 days when stored properly. You can also freeze leaves of lettuce and store them up to 3 weeks.
Harvesting: The top, green growth on onions will begin to yellow and fall over when they are ready to harvest. Pull onions straight up and out of the ground then clean off any dirt and debris before leaving them to sit in the sun for up to a week. This will cure the onion. (As onions cure, the skins dry into papery wrappers, pungent compounds replace sugars, and the necks at the top of the bulb come together to seal out moisture and microorganisms.)
Storage: How long an onion will store varies by variety. Some onions, like Walla Walla and Texas Supersweet, should be used within 3 to 6 weeks. Copra and Patterson are excellent storage onions that can stay fresh for 8 to 12 months. Regardless of the variety, store your onions in a cool and dark location avoiding any exposure to light.
Harvesting: There are three common garden peas- Shelling, Snap and Snow.
Shelling peas have fibrous pods that are often discarded after the peas inside are harvested. Shelling peas are ready to pick when the pods appear swollen from the large peas inside.
Snow peas are flat with small peas on the inside and most known for their use in stir fry. Pick these before the seeds inside are still small.
Snap peas are plump and sweet with an edible pod.
For any pea it is best to taste them every few days and harvest at your desired taste. If they aren't sweet enough leave them on the vine to ripen. If left too long they will become tough and starchy. To harvest peas from the vine simply pinch them off with a thumbnail. Some ripe peas may only need a gentle tug to come off.
Storage: Peas can stay fresh for a few days after they are harvested when stored in the fridge. They like a cool, moist environment like the crisper drawer. Once shelled the peas will expire faster, so it is best to freeze them to extend their shelf life up to a year. Peas can also be canned or dried.
Harvesting: Regardless of the type of pepper you plant, all peppers will start off green and change color as they mature. Peppers should feel firm at the time of harvest. Use a sharp shear or scissor to cut the pepper from the plant. Pulling or pinching peppers off may cause breakage. (Harvesting Tip: Growing hot peppers? Be sure to wear gloves while harvesting or the capsaicin oil, which gives hot peppers their spice, may burn you.)
Storage: Peppers can be pickled, dried, turned into relish or eaten fresh. Store fresh, unwashed bell peppers in the fridge in the crisper drawer for up to a week. Cut bell peppers and hot peppers should be stored in a container with paper towels to wick away excess moisture.
Harvesting: Some home gardeners are intimidated by harvesting potatoes. "If they grow underground, how can I tell when they're ready?" Fortunately, the potato plant itself is quite expressive. Once the green growth of the potatoes has flowered and started to yellow/die back, your potatoes are ready to harvest!
Storage: Depending on variety, most potatoes will store for several months in a cool, dark location. You want to avoid letting potatoes freeze or exposing them to sunlight, as this will shorten their shelf life or make them inedible.
Harvesting: Like other greens, spinach can be harvested by the leaf or by the head. Cut outer leaves off with sharp scissors to allow the center leaves to mature, or harvest the entire head at once. Spinach can be harvested at any size, though smaller leaves are more tender.
Storage: Spinach can be dried and turned into a powder, frozen or stored in the refrigerator. If you plan to freeze your spinach be sure to choose young, tender, uniform leaves. Blanch them for 2 minutes and store in freezer safe containers up to 12 months.
Harvesting: Zucchini, Crookneck, Patty Pan and other summer squashes should be harvested when they reach 4 to 6 inches for the best flavor. Check them every few days for size. Use a sharp blade or scissor to cut them off the vine.
Storage: Summer squash are best used fresh and can last a few weeks in the refrigerator. You can freeze them, though you'll want to chose young squash with very tender skin. Slice then blanch for 3 minutes. Cool and place in freezer containers. Frozen squash will stay fresh for about a year.
Harvesting: Acorn, Spaghetti, Blue Hubbard, Butternut, Delicata and other winter squash are ready to harvest when their stem starts to wither and die. You can also check if they are ready by using a thumb nail to try and cut the skin of the squash. The skin on winter squash should be thick, tough and hard to damage.
Storage: Winter squash stored in a cool, dry location can last 2 to 4 months. Chopped winter squash can be stored for a few days in the fridge.
Harvesting: The most popular method for harvesting Swiss Chard is to use a sharp scissor or knife and cut the entire plant down one inch from the ground. Don't worry- it will continue to grow after being harvested and you will be able to harvest again.
Storage: Swiss Chard is best used fresh. Place unwashed Swiss Chard in an airtight container and press out as much air as possible. Use within 4 to 5 days for the best flavor.
Harvesting: Like their cousin, the pepper, tomatoes will start green and change color as they mature. Large tomatoes can be harvested and eaten while still green (as made popular by fried green tomatoes). Tomatoes are ripe when they have changed color completely. This will depend on the variety you have planted. If you have a tomato that matures to a green color, take note of the "days to maturity" and note it in your calendar. Cut tomatoes from the vine to ensure no breakage happens from tugging.
Storage: Tomatoes are versatile in their storing capabilities- sauces, salsas, relishes, jellies, ketchup, chutney, frozen, eaten fresh... the choice is yours! One of our favorite ways to store them is by freezing them whole. Blanch whole, ripe tomatoes for 1 to 2 minutes. Once cooled the skins of the tomatoes should slip right off. Store in freezer bags for up to six months. Use in sauces or soups.
Helpful terms to know:
Blanch - "Blanching (scalding vegetables in boiling water or steam for a short time) is a must for almost all vegetables to be frozen. It stops enzyme actions which can cause loss of flavor, color and texture. Blanching cleanses the surface of dirt and organisms, brightens the color and helps retard loss of vitamins." National Center for Home Food Preservation
Flower/Go to seed - When a plant is producing seed it is no longer concentrating its energy into producing new growth. For vegetable plants this marks the end of the plants life cycle.
Unwashed - Molds and bacteria thrive in moist environments, so washing produce before storing it can result in a shortened expiration date.