July is the month your garden really starts to feed you. Those heirloom tomatoes you’ve been waiting so patiently to ripen will be overflowing on your countertops soon. Peppers and eggplant are waiting to be picked. Potatoes are ready to dig up now. Be diligent in your harvesting of cucumbers, squash and green beans. If you let a couple days go by without picking these particular vegetables, they will slow down on their production and go into seed-making mode.
Knowing when to pick your garden veggies is as important as knowing how to grow them. Some vegetables you can just look at and tell they are ripe, like red tomatoes and leafy lettuce. Other vegetables are more difficult to know when to harvest. How do you know when potatoes are ready to dig up if they are hiding deep in the earth? Corn always baffled me until I knew exactly what to look for. Melons can also be quite tricky. What am I really listening for when I thump the watermelon? Sometimes you may need to use your sense of touch or smell to determine if a fruit is ready to be picked. There are no precise guidelines to go by for harvesting most vegetables, but there are techniques to learn that will help you. Here are some rule-of-thumb tips for getting the most flavor from your garden.
Beets: Beets can grow all summer long in the garden. Pick as needed. Start picking when their shoulders protrude from the soil. Tug and wiggle gently!
Broccoli: Harvest the head and side shoots before the flower buds open. Broccoli stops producing and goes to seed in very hot weather.
Cabbage: Harvest when the head feels solid when you gently squeeze it. Cabbage heads will split if they become too mature, so check often.
Cantaloupe: Pick after the surface netting turns brown. The blossom end should have a sweet, cantaloupe-y aroma.
Carrots: Carrots can be hard to judge. Just pull one out and taste. If it’s bitter, then leave them in the ground for a few more weeks. Carrots don’t do well in really hot weather. Be sure you pick yours before the dog days set in.
Corn: The key is in the silks. Once they dry up and start turning brown, it is time to check them. Pull the husk down an inch or two and press a kernel with your thumbnail. If it is milky, then your corn is ready to harvest. Pull down on an ear and twist to detach. Cook as soon as you can.
Cucumber: Check daily and pick when young. Cucumbers taste bitter when over-ripe.
Eggplant: Same as for cucumbers. Immature fruit will be firm and shiny. Cut with a sharp knife or scissors.
Green beans: Pick every day! Beans are more tender and tasty when slightly immature. They turn tough and starchy if allowed to grow too big.
Greens (mustard, collards, Swiss chard): Harvest the outer leaves when needed.
Okra: Pick small pods, no bigger than 3-4″, or they will get tough and starchy. Cut with scissors for best result.
Onions: Harvest green onions anytime. Harvest mature onions after tops fall over and the neck turns brown. Let them cure in a shady, ventilated place for a week or two before storing.
Peppers: Peppers are a lot like tomatoes. They start out green, and as they mature, they turn red, yellow, orange and sometimes purple. Usually, hot peppers become hotter the more mature they get.
Potatoes: You can start harvesting new potatoes two weeks after they bloom. For big potatoes, wait to dig them up after the tops die when the ground is dry. Dig gently.
Squash: I always pick summer squash a little immature. They are more tasty and tender when young. Winter squash (and pumpkins) take a long time to mature. Pick them only after the skin is hardened, usually around fall.
Tomatoes: It’s pretty easy to tell when these sumptuous fruits are ripe, especially if they are red tomatoes! Pick them after they have fully developed their natural color, but before the bottoms get soft.
Watermelon: The best way to tell if this fruit is ripe is by the sound. Thumping a mature melon gives a dull hollow thud. The underside of a ripe watermelon will be yellowish-white and the stem end will start to turn brown.
I hope this list helps you in your garden harvesting.
Try not to fret if you lose your squash to the evil squash vine borer this month. Just plant some more! Take advantage of any bare spots that pop up in your garden this month to plant more corn, beets, green beans and fall vegetables like broccoli and cabbage too. There are still many more months of warm weather for your plants to grow and produce yummy food.
See ya next month!