When To Harvest

You’ve spent all spring and summer working hard in your garden—now it’s time to reap what you’ve sown.

June 16, 2011

You’ve spent all spring and summer working hard in your garden—now it’s time to reap what you’ve sown.

But how do you know that cucumber nestled on the vine is ripe for the picking?


And when do you pull up your carrots? Follow this guide to find out just when to harvest the fruits of your labor at their peak of flavor.



  • This veggie is ready to harvest the third year after planting.
  • When stalks reach 6 to 9 inches, cut or break them at the soil line.
  • Harvest before flower heads open.

Beans (snap/green)
Beans actually snap in half when they’re ready to be harvested, and the inner seeds make the sides of the pod bulge just slightly.


  • Gather these brassicas when the central head is fully formed but before any sign of yellowing appears and before buds open and flower.
  • Cut 6 to 7 inches below the head. Some varieties produce side shoots once the main head is removed.
  • Continue harvesting as long as shoots are produced.

When skin is netted and the fruit separates easily from the vine, these melons are as sweet as can be.



  • Harvest when roots are 3/4 inch to 1 1/2 inches in diameter (sometimes larger or smaller depending on variety).
  • Be gentle—bruising encourages soft rot in storage.
  • Pull carrots before the ground freezes, or cover with a thick layer of straw mulch.


  • Puncture a kernel with your fingernail.
  • If a milky fluid flows out, the corn is ready.
  • If the liquid is clear, the corn is immature, and if it's toothpasty, it's overmature.
  • Silk should be dried and brown and cobs plump.

For pickling: Harvest sweet pickles when they are 2 to 4 inches long and dills at 3 to 6 inches. Check out our recipe for Refrigerator Pickles.


For slicing: Cut from vine when cukes are a deep green, the seeds are still soft, and the fruit is 6 to 8 inches long. (Some Armenian and Japanese varieties reach 20 inches!)

“Don’t let cucumbers grow too big, because the seed cavities will get more developed, which makes them less crispy and more bitter,” advises Debbie Leung, OG Test Gardener in Olympia, Washington.

Leave a short stem and harvest often.



  • Fruit is purple to black, with shiny, firm skin.
  • If fruit is overripe, seeds are hard and flesh separates into stringy channels.


  • Instead of one fell swoop of decapitation, "pick individual leaves when they reach your preferred size," Leung says.
  • "Pick from the bottom of the plant to let it keep growing. New leaves grow from the middle. Whole heads are ready as soon as they are full and the middle feels solid."
  • When the middle starts to elongate, the plant will flower, turning the leaves bitter.


  • Green onions/scallions (immature): Pick as soon as they reach desired size.
  • Storage onions (mature): When about half of the top leaves dry out and topple, push the rest of the leaves over and leave the onions in the soil to cure for a week.
  • Bulbs should be 2 to 3 inches in diameter.


Harvest spuds after most of the vines have died, when skin is firm, and before ground temps drop below 40°F; otherwise, starches turn to sugar, ruining the taste.



  • Harvest when roots are 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter.
  • Shoulders pop up through the soil when the radish is fully grown.
  • If left too long, roots become woody or pithy.

Summer Squash

  • Pluck these when your thumbnail can easily puncture the rind.
  • For zucchini and other long-fruiting types, harvest them at 6 to 8 inches long.
  • Bigger than 8 inches, these varieties lose their sweetness and too many seeds are formed.
  • For smaller, scalloped types, harvest at 3 to 4 inches in diameter.

Winter squash

  • Harvest when fruit is mature (your thumbnail does not readily pierce the skin).
  • Leave a 2-inch stem to avoid storage rot, and harvest before a hard frost.


  • Depending on variety, harvest at full color and when they are firm.
  • An overripe tomato quickly loses its firmness.
  • “Some varieties have green shoulders when ripe, so they are not always one single color,” says Leung.
  • If you pick underripe tomatoes, set them away from direct sunlight, ideally in a bowl with a banana to continue the ripening process.
  • Never put them in the refrigerator—cold temperatures spoil the flavor and texture of your homegrown tomatoes.

Check out our 10 tips for growing awesome tomatoes and our Beginner's Guide to Home Canning.


Look for these indicators of ripeness: The tendril closest to the fruit’s stem withers and browns; the belly turns cream to yellowish in color; and when you tap the fruit, you hear a dull, hollow sound.

Yum! Check out this recipe for Tomato Watermelon Salad!