Growing your own crops is so satisfying, not forgetting about all the health benefits of eating fresh vegetables too. We spend a lot of time caring for our crops, protecting them from frosts, fighting off pests and disease and generally nurturing them until they are ready to harvest. However, knowing when to harvest your crop is an even bigger challenge. Pick them too soon and they may taste terrible; leave them too late and they are past their best! So how do you know if they’re ripe yet?
Most soft fruits, tomatoes and peppers change colour on ripening, signalling that they are ready to pick. Courgettes can be cut when they reach the desired size, and many salad leaves can be cut as and when required, without too much cause for concern. But other crops can leave you feeling uncertain.
Here are some tips on knowing when to harvest your fruit and veg.
Many of our favourite vegetables are roots or tubers that are produced beneath the soil. But, how do you know what’s going on down there?
Onions and garlic – Around June and July, the leaves of onions and garlic will begin to yellow as the bulbs mature. Harvest them a week or two after the leaves die back. Choose a dry day to loosen them from the ground with a fork. After lifting the bulbs, you will need to leave them on the soil surface for a day or two until they have fully dried in the sun. Once dry, remove the top foliage and store them in a well ventilated, dry position.
Potatoes – As the tubers mature, potato stems and leaves will yellow and die back. This is a useful indicator that your crop is ready but you don’t need to wait for this to happen. Potatoes can be harvested earlier. Loosen the soil with your fingers and dibble around the roots to explore what is down there. If you can feel tubers of the size that you want then go ahead and harvest them. If the tubers are still too small for your liking then leave them for a few more weeks.
Sweetcorn – Sweetcorn will let you know when the cobs are ready! When the silky tassels at the end of each corn turn brown, peel back the outer sheath and insert a thumbnail into a kernel. The cobs can be harvested when the juice is a milky colour. If the liquid is clear then the cob needs a little longer, but if doughy then the crop is over overripe.
Fruits can be just as tricky. Here are some of the fruits that often raise concern when it comes to harvesting.
Medlar – The fruits of medlar are unpalatable immediately after picking, but you can use them if made into jellies or wine. Leave medlar fruits on the tree until late autumn and harvest them in dry weather when the stalk parts easily from the branch. To eat them raw they will need to be stored for 2 or 3 weeks on slatted trays until the flesh has become soft and brown. This process is called ‘bletting’ where the flesh becomes soft and brown, but not rotten.
Mulberries – If you are lucky enough to have a mulberry then the fruits are best harvested by shaking branches over a sheet spread on the ground. The ripe fruits will drop from the tree and can be easily gathered up from the sheet.
Pears – Unlike apples which can be eaten on the day of harvest, pears require a period of storage finish ripening them off the tree. If allowed to fully ripen on the tree, the core will begin to break down becoming soft and mushy, so they are best harvested slightly under-ripe. Most varieties are ready to pick if the fruits part easily from the tree when given a gentle twist or tilted horizontally. Finish ripening them on slats in a cool, dry place. The early varieties will be ready in just a week or two while later varieties can take months to fully ripen.