There are many benefits of growing an edible garden – not only will the garden provide you with fresh produce, but it can provide learning opportunities for your entire family. From learning about soil composition, water consumption and conservation, to identifying plants and their varieties, a backyard or even patio garden is always rewarding. One of the many important things to know about growing your own vegetables and fruits is learning how and when to harvest your crop. And remember, even if you don’t have the time or space to cultivate a garden, summer is a great time for growing potted herbs on your porch, patio, or deck. Here’s our guide for making sure that you’re getting the most out of your garden this summer and are harvesting your summer crops at the right times with the right methods.
Homegrown tomatoes are a complete delight, and one of the most popular crops to grow due to their adaptions of thriving not only in a sunny spot in your yard, but also in pots on your deck or patio. There is a huge selection of species to grow, from large beefsteak tomatoes to grape and cherry varieties as well. For picking, you’ll want to wait for them to get completely colored and a tad bit soft before using them in your cooking. Heirloom and cherry tomatoes should be picked a bit earlier though and you can let them fully ripen out in the open. Homegrown tomatoes have the additional benefit of being usable before they’re ripe though – fried green tomatoes are a southern staple.
Most kinds of peppers are easily harvested. Once a pepper grows to a usable size and is firm, it can generally be picked. However, many pepper growers prefer to let them stay on the stem for a bit which can help flavors become more complex. In the case of sweet peppers, they get a tad sweeter the further they get from their initial green color, whereas hot peppers get more intense. This mostly holds true but in the case of pimientos, you want to wait until they’re completely red to harvest.
From zucchini to yellow crookneck, squash can provide a versatile summer crop. With its delicate flavor squash can be used as a pasta substitute, in quick breads and muffins, and on its own in countless side dishes. When planted in full sun and given proper water and fertilizer, you’ll have squash for yourself and your neighbors! Pick squash when it’s younger for the best flavor and texture. Mature, overgrown squash is past its prime.
Like squash, it’s easy to get a bumper crop of cucumbers with proper watering and care. Once a cucumber reaches a usable size, it can be harvested and eaten. Letting cucumbers age too long on the vine creates bitterness. Take advantage of them when they’re still firm and glossy. Gardener’s tip – use clippers or sturdy scissors to remove them and leave a bit of the stem attached if you plan on storing your cucumbers.
Nothing says summer like juicy cantaloupes and watermelon. These plants require a lot of space to grow, so keep that in mind. For harvesting, there are clear cut indicators for almost all plants – aroma, size, and easy separation from the plant on which they grow. For picking cantaloupes, you will want a fragrant melon that develops the look of netting across the rind. When it comes to watermelons, you should be able to hear a loud thunk if you tap on them.
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