August 19, 2022

Down the Garden Path: Guest columnist series--It’s time to reap what you’ve sown (or planted)

All the time and effort spent planting, weeding, and watering pays off when vegetables are harvested. They are delicious and nutritious! Take a basket every time you visit the garden so you can pick vegetables at their peak. They not only taste their best, harvesting also boosts production of more veggies.

Most vegetables should be harvested when they are relatively small. Here are some general guidelines for harvesting the most common vegetables grown in home gardens.

Pick green beans when they easily snap in half and before the seeds inside start to bulge.

Cut the heads of broccoli when they are just 4 to 5 inches across, before their buds start to produce flowers. You can eat the stems, too. Peel them before eating.

It’s time to harvest a head of cauliflower when it’s about 6 inches across, while the head is still firm and tight. If it starts to separate, harvest sooner.

The variety of cucumber determines when it should be picked. Some are genetically predetermined to grow larger than others. Less mature cucumbers have thinner skin and fewer seeds but be sure they feel firm before they are plucked from the vine.

If you enjoy green onions, you have probably already been pulling them. Slicing onions are ready to dig once the foliage falls over. Let them cure in a warm, well-ventilated spot for a week or so before storing.

Bell peppers are ready to pick when they are green and shiny. If left on the plant, they will turn colors – orange, red, yellow, and even purple. Their flavor intensifies the longer they grow. Hot peppers can also be harvested when they are green, but they develop the most flavor and heat if left on the plant to turn yellow or red.

Potatoes can be dug as soon as plants flower if you enjoy bite-sized new potatoes. Otherwise, let potatoes grow underground until the foliage turns brown and dries. Use a pitchfork or a shovel to carefully loosen the soil, beginning as far from the plant as possible to avoid cutting into those beautiful spuds.

It’s easy to know when to pick tomatoes. When they are firm (but slightly soft), pull easily from stems, and are whatever color their variety tells them to be, enjoy! If frost threatens before they have all ripened, pick as many as you can and let them ripen on the kitchen counter.

Have questions for the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners? You can call, email, or visit during the growing season. Learn more about connecting with the Kendall County Master Gardener Help Desk at, or call or visit during office hours: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at 630-553-5823 or at 7775-B IL Route 47, Yorkville.