Under Ripe? Too Ripe? Or Just Ripe?


Earlier this year, I started my first container vegetable garden. I have peppers and spinach coming along and some bright red grape tomatoes that I think are ready to pick – or are they? Even though they are red, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to pick them and add them to a salad just yet. Since I’m a novice gardener, I need to learn (and want to share) tricks for harvesting your vegetable garden at the perfect time. Gardening can be easy, we promise.

Cucumber: If you’re growing fresh slicing cucumbers, wait until they reach about seven to nine inches long and are a bright dark green color. They should be firm and smooth. When you harvest, be sure to leave a short stem on each one. You’ll need to check and pick cucumbers daily when they’re ready.


Leaf Lettuce: Once your plant has grown to about 4 inches in height, harvest the outer leaves, while allowing the inner leaves to grow. You can keep reaping the benefits of your lettuce plants all summer long.

Spinach: When leaves are four to six inches long, cut them off at the base. You want to do this before you see a flower stalk start to shoot up amongst your leaves. After you harvest, new leaves will grow in their place so you’ll have more spinach later.


Eggplant: Eggplant is one fruit that should be harvested when it’s slightly immature – experts say this leads to better flavor. Look for firm, shiny eggplants that are bright purple to black in color. Don’t pull your eggplants off the plant — cut them instead.

Summer Squash: This is one veggie that you want to pick young. Keep a close eye on summer squash, checking it daily even. Test the skin to see if it’s tender enough to poke your fingernail through – that’s a good indication that it’s time to pick. If you’re growing zucchini, ripe ones are typically between four and eight inches long and about 1 1/2 inches in diameter.

Beets: Once you see beet shoulders popping out of the soil line, you can harvest them whenever they look like the size you like to eat.


Tomatoes: Should you pick them when red? Yes, but make sure they’re fully colored and slightly soft. Some green thumbs suggest waiting five to eight days after the tomatoes turn red. If you’re new to gardening, be sure to check their firmness daily. They can become soft quickly if overripe. The best way to pick? Twist and pull from the vine.

Onions: You might think onions are a bigger challenge because they’re hiding beneath the soil. However, they’re relatively easy to harvest. Watch for the top to ripen and fall over. Then, dig them out and allow them to dry in the sun. Be sure to harvest before the frost.

Carrots: These veggies can be tricky since it’s hard to know how long they are when they’re in the ground. Watch for orange tops of the carrots to appear at the soil line. When the diameter looks appropriate for the variety you’re growing, don’t stress about how long it might be, just pull one out of the ground to see if the length is good. If so, go ahead and harvest. But there’s no harm in pulling your carrots out later in the season long after they’re ripe – some experts swear a light frost gives the veggies a sweeter flavor.


Sweet Peppers: Pick your green peppers when they reach full size and feel firm. Red, orange or yellow peppers take an extra two or three weeks. They should remain on the plant until they turn the appropriate color.

Radishes: You don’t want radishes to get over ripe because they’ll get tough and woody – and they mature quickly so watch out! Once you see the tops of the bulbs showing at the soil line, pull them.

Peas: Don’t wait for your peas to develop seeds fully. Pick them when the pods look and feel full? They’ll be sweeter if you harvest them before they plump all the way. Too hard to tell? The best way to determine if you should pick your peas is by tasting one for sweetness.

Are you an expert in picking veggies at the right time? Have you grown sweet and flavorful harvests worth bragging about? Tell us in the comments below.

Images: Kelly1878, me’nthedogs, Arlington County, Gare and Kitty, Lizard10979