On Thursday, I posted 6 General Tips for Harvesting. For me, harvesting can be a neglected allotment skill, and the tips were designed to help make sure I reminded myself to take care when picking crops.
Harvesting produce when at its peak is also dependent on the type of veg. French beans need picking young and tender, for example, whilst tomatoes are best left to ripen on the plant as long as possible.
Here are some tips I’ve picked up for harvesting individual crops. I’ve followed these tips on the allotment to make sure I eat as much of my veg when the flavour is at the very finest.
For me, the perfect beetroot is the size of a tennis ball. Beets will sit in the ground and wait patiently to be picked, but don’t let them get too big or they will become woody.
Although sprouts remain perfectly palatable when full size, it’s the little ones that are the real treats. Start harvesting from the bottom, and pull off the dead, yellowy leaves as you go.
Watch out for the very top of the carrot poking through the soil. I harvest when they’re 3-4mm above the surface. Don’t leave them too late as they’ll split.
Cavolo Nero and Kale
Pick the leaves just above where the stem meets the plant when they are a deep green colour. About 10cm – 13cm is perfect for a kale leaf, whilst cavolo nero can be a bit longer.
Harvest regularly to allow for new shoots to come through, but try to vary the plants you pick from so they all get ample time to recover.
Chard and Perpetual Spinach
Chard is a very robust plant and responds well to regular harvesting. Again, cut the leaves off where the stem meets the main plant. 15cm is a nice size for a chard leaf.
Check courgette plants every day – turn your back for a minute and you’ll end up with marrows! Courgettes are ready when about 15cm long, although the cigar sized ones are very tasty indeed…
I like to pick cucumbers when they are about half the length of the ones you find in the shops. These will be delicious but also allow other cues on the plant to grow on.
It is a fine line between a tender and a tough French bean. Try to harvest before the seeds in the pods become distinct, as this is when the bean will be at its sweetest. Visit the plant as regularly as possible to keep on top of the heavy cropping, and picking will encourage other beans to form.
I’ve found Leeks to be a winter harvester’s dream. They’re in no rush and will stay happily in the ground until you’re ready. So if it’s raining and miserable, you can pick them another day.
Onion and Garlic
Red and white onions and garlic are ready to pull when the stalks die off and bend over.
Parsnips are sweetened by the first frost, so harvest after this for the best taste.
You can tell if the pea is definitely ready to harvest if you shake the pod and hear the peas rattling inside.
When the potato leaves turn yellow, the crop will stop growing. The potatoes will sit in the ground without complaint until the soil becomes soggy. Get them out before then so they don’t rot.
Purple Sprouting Broccoli
Pick flower shoots, or mini florets just before the flower buds open.
Keep an eye on your radishes, as they will soon go woody. They grow fast, so sowing little and often is the key with these peppery salad veg.
Like French beans, try to pick the pods young, before the seeds are visible. About 8 inches is a good size. Much bigger and they’ll start to become stringy.
Look out for the husks turning brown. Then pull back the husks and make a small incision into the kernel. If the corn is ripe, the juice will squirt out. If the juice is thickish, the corn is ripe.
Don’t be tempted to pick a pale tomato – you’re missing out! Try and leave the fruit on the plant until fully reddened. This way, you’ll guarantee your tomato will be as tasty and juicy as possible.