When should I harvest my food? A guide by Harvst
In the modern world where most of us have lost the connection with nature, there’s something uniquely gratifying about growing our own vegetables. The satisfaction of seeing seeds sprout, plants grow, and finally harvesting the fruits of your labour cannot be overstated. Whether you have a large garden or just a small balcony, growing your own vegetables is entirely possible and an immensely rewarding experience.
Contrary to popular belief, growing vegetables doesn’t have to be as intimidating and time-consuming as one might think. In fact, even small amounts of effort can yield remarkable results. Starting with just a few pots can be enough to grow a variety of vegetables successfully, and with a bit of planning and attention, the process becomes a rewarding journey.
If you know Harvst and what we do, you’ll know that we give you the option to automate your growing with our Smart Mini Greenhouses & Automatic Watering Systems. If you’re not ready for that kind of commitment and still fancy the more hands-on approach, our subscription services may be something you’re interested in.
Whichever way you want to grow, watching the tiny seedlings grow into lush greenery and eventually bear fruit is a fulfilling experience that actually requires no advanced gardening skills. Having said that, if you’re a beginner at this, it can feel intimidating and overwhelming to start and we get it! That’s why we have created our monthly Grow Your Own Subscription Box! They come with everything you need to get started; pots, compost, seeds, growing instructions plus a 10% discount on our product range and more useful services!
A month from receipt, one of our monthly box subscribers is already eating their produce! Check out some of their imagery below.
The key to reaping the rewards of your work lies in harvesting your vegetables at the right time. Harvesting too early or too late will impact the flavour, texture, and overall quality of the produce and also how much the plant can actually produce.
Here’s a few general tips on how to know when it’s time to harvest:
Read seed packets, plant tags or our grow guides
All of the above contain valuable information about the expected time to maturity. This can serve as helpful guideline for when to start checking for readiness – but it is certainly not an exact science that you should blindly follow. The seed packet will also provide information about what type of variety you have and what the expected size should be.
Observe Visual Cues
Different vegetables exhibit specific visual cues indicating their readiness for harvest. Look for colour changes (tomatoes turning red!) and changes in the appearance like size, shape and texture. It is important to know the variety that you are growing so you can set your expectations – for example; some cucumbers should be 25cm long whilst other varieties only grow to 10cm. Best to be prepared to avoid disappointment!
Feel the Texture
Get hands-on with your vegetables. Gently squeeze or touch them to assess their firmness or ripeness. As an example, ripe cucumbers will be firm but not overly hard, while courgettes should be tender but not too soft.
The taste is a foolproof indicator of a vegetable’s readiness. When in doubt, sample one (or a few) to see if they have reached the desired flavour.
Check your garden regularly and harvest vegetables as they mature. Regular harvesting encourages continuous production and prevents over ripening.
Here’s some more specific information on how to know when it’s time to harvest some popular vegetables:
French beans are best harvested when they are young and tender, usually about 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) long. Look for smooth, slender pods that snap easily when bent. Avoid waiting till the beans are bulging with seeds, as they may be tough and stringy. It is important to harvest as often as possible as the plant will stop producing beans if the seeds inside the pods are allowed to develop.
Carrots can be harvested when they have reached their mature size, typically around 1/2 to 1 inch (1-2.5 cm) in diameter for regular varieties. Gently brush away the soil from the top of the carrot to check its size. The colour should be vibrant, and the texture should be firm. Oversized carrots may become woody and less flavourful. Please note that there are many varieties of carrot and some are miniature and others very large when mature. Refer to the seed packet or grow guide and harvest one to check its size!
Lettuce leaves can be harvested at various stages, depending on your preference. For baby lettuce, pick the outer leaves when they are around 3-4 inches (7-10 cm) long. For mature lettuce, harvest the entire head by cutting it at the base when the leaves are full-sized, but before they start to bolt (produce a flower stalk). By picking the outer leaves the plant will keep on producing leaves for longer. This is called cut and come again.
Radishes are quick-growing root vegetables that are ready for harvest relatively soon after planting. Radishes are typically ready to harvest when they reach the size of 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter. Some varieties may be larger or smaller, so refer to the seed packet or plant tag for specific details. Gently feel the top of the radish bulb to check if it has reached the desired size. It should feel firm and well-rounded. Radish foliage can also provide clues about their readiness. If the leaves look healthy and vibrant, it’s a good indication that the radishes are mature and ready for harvest. Make sure to harvest radishes promptly when they are mature, as they can quickly become pithy and lose their crisp texture if left in the ground for too long.
Pak choi can be harvested when the leaves are young and tender, usually around 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) in height. You can cut the entire plant at the base or harvest individual outer leaves, allowing the inner leaves to continue growing. Check the seed packet for size information as there are some smaller varieties that should only be 4 inches (10cm) high.
Chilli peppers can be picked when they have reached their desired size and colour. Most varieties turn red, orange, yellow, or other vibrant hues when ripe. They should be firm and plump. Use caution and wear gloves when handling hot pepper varieties.
Bell peppers are ready for harvest when they have reached their full size and colour. They should be firm and glossy. Harvest by cutting the stem about an inch above the fruit. Like chilli peppers, bell peppers can come in various colours, such as green, red, yellow, or orange and it is therefore important to check the seed packet for information.
Aubergines are ready for harvest when they have a smooth, glossy skin and have reached their mature size. They should be firm to the touch and not too hard or soft. It is important to harvest before the fruit loses its gloss because when a matt finish appears the seeds have started to develop inside, making it almost impossible to eat. Cut the stem with a sharp knife to harvest and take care as the plant can be spiky. As there are many different varieties to grow, ensure to check the seed packet as some should be like a golf ball in size, others long and slender and some as big as the supermarket varieties.
Harvest mange tout when the pods are flat, tender, and have not yet filled out with peas. The ideal size is usually about 2 to 3 inches (5-7.5 cm) long. They should be bright green and free from any yellowing or browning. To check for readiness, snap one of the pods in half. If it snaps easily and produces a crisp sound, they are ready to be harvested. If the pod bends without snapping, it’s likely too mature and may have toughened peas inside. Regularly check the plants and harvest the pods as they mature. Frequent harvesting encourages the plant to produce more flowers and pods.
Cucumbers should be harvested when they have reached their indicated size and the skin should be firm and evenly coloured. Check the seed packet for the indicated size and always harvest before any yellow tones appear.
Look for tomatoes that have developed their full colour, whether it’s red, orange, yellow, or any other specific hue of the variety. The skin should be shiny and vibrant.
Gently squeeze the tomato; it should be firm but still yield slightly to pressure. Overripe tomatoes will feel mushy, while under ripe ones will be too hard. Check the stem where it connects to the tomato. Mature tomatoes will easily detach from the vine with a slight twist.
Basil leaves can be harvested once they reach a usable size but harvesting basil correctly will encourage the plant to continue producing new leaves. Make clean cuts just above a set of leaves or nodes. This pruning technique encourages branching and new leaf growth. Also, regularly pinch off any flowers that appear on the basil plant. Allowing it to flower can make the leaves develop a bitter taste and reduces overall leaf production.
Courgettes are prolific producers when harvested at the right time. To ensure tender and tasty courgettes, harvest them when they are still relatively small and tender, typically around 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) in length and about 1-2 inches (2-5 cm) in diameter. Overly large courgettes can become tough and less flavourful. Gently press your fingernail into the skin of the courgette. It should be firm but yield slightly to pressure. An overly firm courgette may not be fully developed, while a soft one may be overripe. Regularly check your courgette plants and harvest the mature fruits promptly. Frequent harvesting encourages the plant to produce more flowers and fruit.
By paying attention to visual cues, texture, and taste, you’ll be better equipped to know precisely when to harvest, ensuring your efforts culminate in the most delicious and nutritious rewards. So, roll up your sleeves, order some seeds or our monthly subscription box, and embark on this beautiful journey of self-sufficiency and satisfaction through vegetable gardening. Happy harvesting!
See all of our Subscription options here.