Growing your own food lets you control the quality at harvest. In other words, you can pick your crop at its peak of perfection for eating. Preferences may vary among people but there are some baseline recommendations for quality.
Zucchini summer squash is a poster child for differences in when to harvest. Summer squash is harvested when the seeds are young and the rind is tender.
The zucchini fruit is generally six to eight inches long when it is normally harvested. A fingernail should easily break the skin on a ready-to-be-picked zucchini, indicating that it isn’t too old. Picking them at this stage will cause the plant to produce more than leaving the fruit on longer. In case you are lacking for zucchini.
Cucumbers are similar to zucchini summer squash. Harvest slicing types before seeds become half-size. In general, the diameter will be 1.5 to 2.5 inches and five to eight inches long. You can double your harvest by routinely harvesting your cucumbers. Pickling cucumbers are harvested at the preferred size of the pickler.
Green bean pods are most tender when the seeds are one-fourth of their normal size. Pods become tougher as beans mature. I suggest you harvest them at different stages and see if you can determine the best stage for you.
Blackberries require patience. Wait until the fruit turns a dull black color. The fruit will be soft and separate easily from the stem. They don’t store long but the flavor can’t be beat.
Sweet corn is picked when the kernel has formed a “milky” juice. Use your finger to pierce the kernel. If no juice appears, then the ear is old. The silk will have turned brown.
The other advantage of harvesting your own vegetables is the ability to quickly remove heat from the crop to preserve its qualities. Keep the harvest in a shaded area of the garden until it can be taken to the kitchen. These crops can be put right into the refrigerator.
If you have to harvest during the heat of the day, cool your crop by setting it in cold water prior to putting it in the refrigerator to quickly reduce the internal temperature.
K-State Research and Extension has a publication on harvest and storage of fruits and vegetables. It is available on the front page of our website or at the office.