The Time is Ripe
THE SEEDS SPROUTED AND THE SEEDLINGS GREW. Now a bounty of homegrown vegetables is maturing under the summer sun: juicy tomatoes and sweet corn, crisp cucumbers and summer squash, gleaming eggplants and fiery peppers.
To enjoy their peak flavor and freshness, pick them when they are mature and ripe. Miss this window by a few days and sweet, tender veggies turn tough and tasteless. Harvest too early and edibles can taste “green” and sour, even bitter or tannic, and lack wonderful mouth-watering aromas.
Seed packets or seedling tags often include the number of days to harvest. Treat these as useful but not firm guidelines. Many growing variables, ranging from weather to watering schedules, can influence actual maturity. Remember too that regular harvests spur edible plants’ productivity. Veggies or fruit left on the vine tell the plant its work is done, and many will wither or simply stop producing.
Below are harvesting tips for some summer garden favorites. Plan to consume your edibles the day you pick them or soon thereafter, so that sugars don’t turn to less favorable starches.
Corn. Plump ears and drying silk are sure signs. So is a kernel test: Pop one with your thumb. On mature ears, the juice will be milky. Watery juice is a sign of immaturity, while pasty kernels signal corn past its prime.
Zucchini.Don’t allow these green squashes to swell to watermelon size. Pick them when they are slender and about 6 inches long. Control production by harvesting the edible blossoms too.
Eggplant. Think of them as jewels and look for rich colors and shiny skin. Flavor wanes as the skin dulls.
Peppers. Know your peppers, because mature color can vary from green to purple, red or orange. At that point, peppers are full size and the most flavorful. Snip stems with scissors to avoid damaging the plant.
Cucumbers.Avoid sausage-sized cukes with their big seeds and tough skin. Harvest instead when they are no longer than 8 inches. For sweet pickles, pick when finger size.
Green beans.If these slender beans are bumpy and hard and bend instead of snap, they are past their prime. Harvest often while tender to keep plants producing.
Watermelon.Test for ripeness before cutting a watermelon from the vine: Tap the melon in the morning and listen for a dull, hollow “thunk.” Check the underside to be sure it’s pale yellow, and look for withered tendrils where the stem joins the vine. Ripening and sweetening stop once the watermelon is harvested.
Other melons.Muskmelons and cantaloupes smell deliciously sweet and slip easily off the stem when ripe. Not so for honeydews. When the side on the ground has turned from yellow to white, they can be cut from the vine.
Potatoes. Dig up extra-sweet “new” potatoes when plants begin to bloom. For mature potatoes, delay harvest until the foliage dies down.
Garden Guide: By Mary James