JoAnne Skelly: Is it ripe yet?
When is it time to pick fruit or vegetables? Size and color are not always reliable in determining harvest time for apples and pears. Grapes and berries, on the other hand, are ripe when they get to be the right color. Apples and pears develop to the highest quality when picked mature, a stage of development prior to ripe.
Ripe means ready for eating. The “lift and turn” method is a good way to tell if the fruit is ready to be picked. A mature apple or pear will fall off the tree when held in the palm of the hand, gently lifted and turned. If you have to pull, tug or yank the fruit, it is not ready to be picked.
The rule of thumb for vegetables is to harvest early, often and at their peak tenderness and flavor. Frequent harvest prolongs the production time, so the more you pick, the more you get. Pick veggies in the early morning and use them soon after harvest.
With vegetables, I pick squash (zucchini, pattypan, crookneck) while they are small. My husband likes his serrano and jalapeño peppers while still in the green stage. Some folks like them after they turn red. I prefer green bell peppers when they have ripened to red. Fresh beans should be picked before the seeds have begun to swell inside the pod. Dried beans are ready when the pods are completely dry, and beans can hardly be dented when bitten. Beet greens are best as soon as they are large enough to use, whereas the beets themselves need to be about one inch in diameter. Gently move the soil away from the top of the beet root and see if the beet is big enough.
Pumpkins are harvested when fully colored and the shell is hard, or after a frost kills the vine. When cutting a pumpkin or winter squash from the vine, leave several inches of stem on the pumpkin. Then let the pumpkin age in the garden for two weeks to harden the skin. By doing this, it will keep for several months, indoors at 50 degrees.
Potatoes begin developing when the plant flowers; they can be dug at any size of your choice. When the foliage dies back, the potatoes are mature. All potatoes should be dug before a hard freeze or they will rot in storage. Dry them without washing and store in well-ventilated boxes or bags at a temperature of 40 degrees.
JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.