How and When to Harvest Vegetables and Fruits
How and when to harvest & successfully store your crops

At the first of summer, we got started on how to plan and plant a vegetable garden. If you missed those articles you can read them here: How To Start A Vegetable Garden - How To Maintain A Vegetable Garden

Now that the growing season is winding down, we have the pleasure of harvesting what we have grown all summer long. Since during the fall months there are many different kinds of fruits and vegetables that can be harvested, and the list below certainly doesn't cover them all, I wanted to go over how to harvest and store some of the more popular vegetables and fruits that you probably grew this year.

Harvesting, like all gardening, isn't hard, but after putting a lot of your time and effort into successfully growing your crops, you want to make sure you are harvesting at the correct time for peak flavor and good storage. Not a problem ... the below guide will help you along!


Harvest season ranges from midsummer to late fall, depending upon the variety.

Most apples are ready to pick when they separate easily from the tree and the fruit comes off when you give it a gentle lift and twist. Another indicator is the color of the seeds in the core. When apples are ripe, the seeds turn dark brown.

If you're still in doubt, take a sample bite. An underripe apple will taste green or starchy, while ripe apples are sweet and juicy. Overripe apples get mealy.

To avoid pulling out the stem when you harvest, don't yank the apple to pick it; instead hold the apple in your hand, tilt it upward, and twist to separate it from the branch with a rotating motion.

Length of storage varies, ranging from only a few weeks to 6 months depending upon the variety. Store apples at near-freezing temperatures and at high humidity; a good root cellar for storage is ideal.


If you started your asparagus bed from crowns, you should be able to harvest lightly for a week or two in the spring of the second season, but waiting until the third season lets the plants establish healthy root systems.

The third year should bring a moderate harvest for 3 or 4 weeks and then heavy picking for 6 weeks or more every year thereafter.

Pick sparingly the first time - over about 2 weeks. Extend your harvest gradually in subsequent season, until you are harvesting for about 8 weeks. In more temperate climates this can last up to 12 weeks.

Always gauge the length of your harvest by the previous season's growth. Select only those spears that are thicker than a pencil; anything thinner should be allowed to grow into ferns.

Harvest spears in early spring when they are 6 to 8 inches (15-20 cm) tall and the tips are still firm and closed. Cut or snap the spears off at, or just below, ground level. If you opt to cut your asparagus be careful not to injure the plant crown.

When the emerging spears get progressively thinner, it's time to stop harvesting.

Asparagus is best when fresh, but you can refrigerate it for up to 1 week. Set asparagus upright in 1 to 2 inches (2.5-5 cm) of water and refrigerate. Don't let the spear tips get wet, or they'll rot. Surplus asparagus freezes really well, so that is always another option.


You can harvest beans up until frost starts.

Snap Beans
Green, Yellow - come in both bush and pole varieties

Pods should be firm and crisp at harvest and about as thick as a pencil; they should snap when you break one in half. The seeds inside should be very small and underdeveloped, because beans are overmature if the seeds have begun to fill out the pods. Hold the stem with one hand and the pod with the other to avoid pulling off branches that will produce later pickings. You can carefully pinch the pods with your fingers or use a scissors. Pick all pods to keep plants productive.

Shell Beans
Romano, Lima, Southern Peas, Soybeans, Fava, etc. - come in both bush and pole varieties

Shell beans can also be grown as dried beans. Pick these varieties when the pods change color and the beans inside are fully formed but not dried out. Pods should be plump, firm, and tender. Quality declines if you leave them on the plant too long. Pick every couple of days to keep the plants productive.

With both shell and snap beans, you can keep the pods in plastic bags for 1 or 2 weeks in the refrigerator, or freeze the surplus.

Dried Beans
Great Northern, Navy, Pinto, etc.- come in both bush and pole varieties

Let the pods get as dry as possible in the garden, and pick pods of dry beans when they have turned brown and the seeds have hardened. You'll be able to hear the seeds rattling inside the pods. If the weather is too damp for the beans to dry, harvest the plants and hang them upside down indoors.

Pods when thoroughly dry will split readily, making seeds easy to remove. Shell the beans when they are completely dry, and place them in an airtight jar with a desiccant to absorb moisture; store in cool, dry spot for up to a year. Read this article for more about How To Save Seeds


Harvest while heads are a deep green, still compact, and before buds start to open into flowers. If the buds start to separate and the yellow petals inside start to show, harvest immediately. Cut the stem at a slant about 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) below the head. Removing the head on some varieties will produce sideshoots in the axils of leaves and you can get 4 to 6 cuttings of shoots per plant over several weeks. The thick stems are edible, but they should be peeled first. The leaves are tough, but usable in soups and stews.

When you bring your broccoli inside, soak the heads in a salt water mixture (1 to 2 tablespoons (15-30 ml) of salt per gallon (3.8 l) of water for 20-30 minutes before cooking or storing. This will drive out any cabbageworms hiding in the heads. Broccoli will keep for a week or so in the refrigerator if wrapped in plastic. The best way to store broccoli for longer periods is to blanch and freeze it.

Contact Information

Weekend Gardener Monthly Web Magazine
P.O. Box 104
Morro Bay, CA 93443


Hilary Rinaldi is a certified organic grower, and a member of the National Garden Writers Association. She is a nationally published writer, and regularly speaks and writes about all gardening related topics concentrating on making gardening fun and successful for everyone. Weekend Gardener Monthly Web Magazine gives gardening advice and gardening tips all levels of gardeners.

© 1993 - 2008 Hilary A. Rinaldi
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