Harvesting vegetables with the best flavor and tenderness is the ultimate reward from your home garden. Vegetables that mature during the cooler fall temperatures are expected to have much better flavor than those that are harvested in late spring or summer.

The warm-season vegetables in the fall may be ready to harvest ... soon. Thanksgiving symbolizes the end of the fall harvest season.

The stage of maturity at harvest time significantly influences the flavor and tenderness of your vegetables.

If you harvest too early, the best flavor has not developed, but they will be very tender. When you harvest too late, flavor and tenderness are undesirable.

Tools for harvesting

Harvesting equipment could include a hand scissor-action pruning shear, a knife with blade at least 2 inches long, a bucket or basket to carry your produce.

How to harvest

Methods to harvest are cut off (hold the fruit, then cut next to the plant) or pull off (hold the plant at the stem, then pull off the fruit from the plant). The guidelines to prime-time harvesting based on the appearance, feel and size of your produce are:

Green beans — When pod is 2/3 mature size, and just before the seeds swell, cut off or pull off.

Sweet corn — When ear is large and plump to the tip, shuck is soft beyond the tip and silks are tan/dry. Open husk at tip and press thumbnail into a kernel to view the liquid/milk stage. If it’s not watery (immature) or doughy (too mature), twist downward and off.

Cucumber — When fruit is half expected mature size, cut off.

Eggplant — When fruit is 2/3 of expected mature size, cut off.

Melons — When cantaloupe separates from the vine, pick it up. When watermelon has a small tendril in the vine near the stem that is brown/dry, and white spot under melon turns yellow, cut off.

Okra — When pod is about 4 inches long; cut off.

Southern peas (Green snap) — When pod is 2/3 mature size, but just before the seeds swell, cut off or pull off.

Southern peas (Green mature) — When pod is large and plump, but just before the seeds are full size, cut off or pull off.

Southern peas (Dry mature) — When pod is left on vine to mature until dry, cut off or pull off.

Pepper — When fruit is mature shape/color, cut off.

Pumpkin — When fruit is desirable size/color, cut off.

Squash — When fruit is edible size, cut off.

Tomato — When fruit is mature size and color, twist off.

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