JoAnne Skelly: When to harvest vegetables

Readers often ask me when vegetables are ready for harvest. Some veggies have a long harvest window, but others may be tasty one day and bitter the next. Of course, if a freeze is expected, many of our vegetables end up being harvested early. I’ve ripened many a green tomato on the windowsill.

Here are a few harvest pointers from Cornell University.

Harvest snap beans when the seed inside is about one-quarter its seed-planting size. Otherwise, the beans get stringy and starchy. Beets are ready to harvest at one-inch in diameter, but still are tasty up to two- to three-inches. You also can eat beet leaves, which are best when young. For late summer to fall-planted beets, harvest them before a moderate freeze (24-28 degrees) or put a thick mulch layer over them to protect for later harvest. Broccoli is best before the flowers open. Harvest Brussels sprouts when the individual heads are firm in size at the bottom of the stalk, but before a severe freeze (below 24 degrees). Cabbage heads should be solid for harvest. They split when they are too mature. Carrots are ready when they reach one- to two-inches in thickness. Late planted carrots should be harvested before the ground freezes unless you mulch them heavily. Then, they can be harvested through the winter.

Pick outer leaves of Swiss chard or kale continuously. Chard lasts until a moderate freeze. A frost (32-36 degrees) improves kale’s flavor. Harvest leaf lettuce similarly to chard. Head lettuce should be picked before the center bolts and puts up a flower stalk.

Pick green onions when you like their size. Other onions can be eaten fresh at one-quarter inch to one inch in size. Otherwise, for storage and general cooking wait until the tops have fallen over and the necks are shriveled. An onion is ready for curing when you can’t dent it with your finger. Cure onions for three or four weeks after digging, either in a single layer or in a mesh bag in a dry, well-ventilated place out of direct sun. Wait to remove the tops until fully dry.

Pick green sweet peppers when they reach a good size and are firm. To get red ones, wait longer. Hot peppers are ready early, but young green hot peppers are hotter than mature colored ones.

For further details about when many other vegetables are ready to harvest, check out the Cornell website,

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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