Q. This is the first year I have had a vegetable garden. I need to know when to pick the vegetables. I know when the tomatoes turn red but what about peppers, cucumbers, cabbage, carrots, beets and onions? I really planted a lot of things and they all seem to be producing right now.
A. First thing to tell you is to begin harvesting the vegetables as they mature so that the plant will continue to produce more fruit until the weather cools and production stops.
• Of course as you said, tomatoes can be picked when they turn red — you can even harvest them before they are very red and they will finish ripening off the vine.
• Bush tomato plants (determinant) will grow to a certain height, produce fruit all at once and die while indeterminate tomatoes will keep on producing till frost. How do you tell? These plants keep growing and setting bud and usually the frost finally kills them.
• So that tomatoes will ripen slower and stay fresh longer make sure to take them off the vine with a little of the stem attached.
• Take cucumbers off the vine when they are dark green and feel very firm.
• Letting them stay till you see some yellowing of the cucumber skin may mean they are over-ripe and seeds will be larger and more watery.
• When seed production and ripening has taken over, the cucumber flesh becomes pithy and bitter.
• Cut cabbage when the heads are well formed and feel firm.
• Use a sharp knife and cut the head off at the base keeping the stem and the plant intact. Early cabbage will often make another head.
• Bell peppers can be harvested when they are full size and green or you can allow them to stay on the plant and turn color.
• Beets and carrots can be harvested whenever you would like. They tend to take 50 to 70 days to mature enough to be ready to eat. Try to remember when you planted them and count forward.
• Dig or pull before the tops begin to turn. The longer they are in the ground and tops begin to make seed and look like they are turning yellow — the vegetable will become woody and tough. So while the part of the plant you see above ground is still green on carrots, and red on beets, pull a few. They can be eaten no matter how big or small they are.
• Harvest onions when the tops turn yellow and die back.
• Here are a few other vegetables people often plant. Harvest eggplant when there is a well formed egg. Remember, harvesting along the way on any of these plants will allow them to continue producing.
• Gourds can be left to dry on the vine. If taken too early the shell can soften and spoil.
• When the vine withers and dies, then cut the gourds off leaving a little of the stem.
• Zucchini can hide so be sure to look under the large leaves at the root zone.
• The smaller early squash are the most flavorful (about 6 inches) plus cutting them off the plant early encourages the plant to produce more squash.
• Usually one plant, when it goes into production, will supply all the squash you and your neighbors, friends, and co-workers can use in one season.
Jane Ford is an Advanced Master Gardener. Email questions to email@example.com. This column is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of The News-Sentinel.