Tips to harvest garden vegetables at peak quality, flavor | Home & Garden |

2022-07-30 03:03:53 By : Mr. Jason Wang

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URBANA — Whether you started your first garden this year or are a veteran grower, we’re coming up on the heart of harvest season. One of the advantages of homegrown vegetables is that you can harvest produce at its peak quality and flavor.

But knowing when to harvest a crop can be difficult, especially if it’s your first time growing it, says Ken Johnson, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

“Almost all vegetables are best when harvested early in the morning,” Johnson says. “If you can’t harvest in the morning, keep produce out of direct sunlight and cool as soon as possible.”

When it comes time to harvest your vegetables, make sure plants are dry. If you harvest while plants are wet, you risk spreading diseases. It’s also important to handle plants with care and avoid damaging them.

“Damaged areas can provide openings for diseases to enter,” Johnson says. “If the vegetables you are trying to harvest don’t easily come off, cut them off with a knife or pruners to avoid damaging the plant.”

Snap or green beans should be picked when the pods are fully grown but before the seeds have started to get large. The beans should be crisp and snap easily. When picking, break off the stem above the cap and harvest frequently.

Cucumbers should be harvested before their skin turns yellow and the seeds become hard. The size of the cucumber will vary depending on the type. Pickling cucumbers are usually picked when they are between 2 and 6 inches long. Slicing pickles should be picked at 6 to 8 inches long and burpless should be 1 to 1½ inches in diameter and up to 10 inches long.

“Cucumbers develop quickly, so plants may need to be checked every other day,” Johnson says.

Peppers can be harvested at any size. Green bell peppers are typically picked when they are mature and about 3 to 4 inches long, firm, and green. If you are growing colored bell peppers, wait until the fruits change color.

“One way to tell if the fruit is mature is that they will easily break off of plants when picked,” say Johnson.

Hot peppers can also be picked at any stage but are typically picked when fully ripe. The mature color of the fruit will be different depending on the variety.

Summer squash – straightneck, crookneck, or zucchini – should be harvested when they are small and tender. Pick when the fruits are 2 inches or less in diameter and 6 to 8 inches long. “When growing conditions are favorable, you may need to harvest every other day or daily,” Johnson says.

Winter squash – acorn, butternut, pumpkins – can be harvested when the fruits have turned a deep, solid color, no longer have a glossy appearance, and the rind is hard. Leave at least 2 inches of stem attached and harvest all squash before heavy frosts arrive.

Tomatoes are at their best quality when allowed to ripen on the vine. Tomatoes should be firm and fully colored. During hot conditions, 90°F, tomatoes will quickly soften, and color development is reduced. During these conditions, pick tomatoes when they begin to develop color and ripen them indoors. If plants still have fruit on them in fall, you can harvest mature green fruit before the first frost and ripen them indoors.

For more information on vegetable gardening, connect with your local Illinois Extension county office at

From the Nov. 22, 1992, Journal Gazette, this photo of Cosmic Blue Comics in Mattoon; where I spent virtually every Saturday afternoon for about two years. That small back room you see just off to the right of the Coca-Cola sign was where they kept the many, and I mean many, long-boxes of back issues. I still own my bagged copy of "Tales of the Beanworld" issue No. 1 that I found back there. Sadly, this location is now just a "greenspace".

Pictured, Shelbyville's Bob Murray from the June 2, 1982, Journal Gazette, displaying his dominance over the TRON arcade game at the "Carousel Time" arcade at the Cross County Mall, later to be the Aladdin's Castle, soon thereafter to be not a thing anymore. I spent just about every Saturday at that arcade, perhaps with that exact same haircut. No overalls, though. I was more of an "Ocean Pacific" kind of kid.

Pictured, from the Nov. 28, 1988, Journal Gazette, Icenogle's grocery store. Being from Cooks Mills, we didn't often shop at Icenogle's...but when we did, even as a kid, I knew it was the way a grocery store is supposed to be in a perfect world, and that's not just because they had wood floors, comic books on the magazine rack, or plenty, and I mean plenty, of trading cards in wax packs.

I had long since moved away from Cooks Mills by the time this Showcase item about Adam's Groceries ran in the June 13, 1998, Journal Gazette, but there was a time when I very well could have been one of those kids in that photo; for if it was summer, and you had a bike, and you lived in Cooks Mills, that's where you ended up. At last report, they still had Tab in the Pepsi-branded cooler in the back. I'm seriously considering asking my money guy if I could afford to reopen this place.

Pictured, from the July 16, 1987, Journal Gazette, this ad for Mister Music, formerly located in the Cross County Mall. I wasn't buying records at that age, but I would eventually, and that's where it all went down. If you don't think it sounds "cool" to hang out at a record store with your buddies on a Friday night, a piping-hot driver's license fresh in your wallet, you'd be right. But it's the best a geek like me could do. Wherever you are today, owners of Mister Music, please know that a Minutemen album I found in your cheap bin changed my life.

Portrait of the author as a young man, about to throw a guitar through a target at that year's Sound Source Music Guitar Throwing Contest, from the April 18, 1994, Journal Gazette. Check out my grunge-era hoodie, and yes...look carefully, those are Air Jordans you see on my feet. Addendum: despite what the cutline says, I did not win a guitar.

Pictured, clipped from the online archives at, a photo from the April 18, 1994, Journal Gazette of Sound Source Music Guitar Throwing Contest winner, and current JG-TC staff writer, Clint Walker.

Here today, gone tomorrow, Vette's Teen Club, from the June 20, 1991, Journal Gazette. I wasn't "cool" enough to hang out at Vette's back in it's "heyday," and by "cool enough" I mean, "not proficient enough in parking lot fights." If only I could get a crack at it now.

FutureGen: The end of the beginning, and eventually, the beginning of the end, from the Dec. 19, 2007, JG-TC. I wish I had been paying more attention at the time. I probably should have been reading the newspaper.

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