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Harvesting your own fruit and vegetables is probably the most rewarding part of growing your own and once tasted, you will be hooked on producing more!
Below are a few tips for harvesting your produce so that you get the most out of it and ensure the maximum yield from your crops.
Our Harvesting Top Tips
Start to pick fast growing vegetables such as runner beans, mange tout, radish and courgettes when they are on the small side. By picking little and often, you will keep these prolific croppers producing for much longer and hopefully avoid a ‘glut’!
Always pick all of the vegetables on your plants, even if they have grown too big or coarse for use. These can be added to the compost heap and will soon be replaced with more usable produce. Use a pair of scissors or a sharp knife, to cut your produce once it is ready. This will prevent the plants being torn, which may damage new growth, flower buds or tiny vegetables that are still developing. Use some of your produce as ‘baby veg’. This way the rows can be thinned, leaving room for others to grow larger, for example Beetroot and Carrots.
When digging root crops such as carrots, parsnips and leeks, use a garden fork and make sure that you dig down deeply, so that the bottom of the root is not damaged. Allow plenty of room between the row and your fork to prevent damage by the tines as you ease the roots up. Try to avoid digging root crops in very dry weather as there is more possibility of the lower portion of the root snapping in the ground. Water the rows before harvesting during prolonged dry spells.
Always dig root crops up rather than trying to pull them out of the ground – you will probably just snap the leaves off unless your soil is very fine. Start to dig new potatoes when the flowers begin to open. Gently ease up the haulms with a garden fork taking care not to spear the tubers by digging down deeply. Cover the potatoes with an old towel once they are dug to keep the sun off them. Main crop potatoes can be dug when all of the top growth has died down. Try to harvest when the soil is dry and do not wash the tubers. They can be inspected for damage and the undamaged ones can be stored in a cool, dark place for use through winter.
Tomatoes are ripe for use when the stalk snaps easily and cleanly when the tomato is gently pulled upwards. Towards the end of the season or during prolonged cloudy weather, tomatoes can be picked before they are fully ripe and placed on a windowsill in the house to finish ripening. Onion bulbs can be dried off on a sunny path. Once the tops begin to bend over towards the end of the summer, ‘ease’ the roots to encourage them to start dying back, and bend down any tops that have not done so. Two weeks later, lift the onions completely and leave to dry, upside down on a sunny path before storing. Dry them off, upside down on metal racks in a garage or outbuilding if the weather is wet. Take off excess leaves from crops such as leeks and winter greens as you harvest them and add them to the compost heap. This will make your vegetables less bulky to store and deal with when you get back to the kitchen. Fruit such as apples, pears and plums are usually ripe and ready to eat when the stalk snaps easily. Gently hold the fruit in the palm of your hand and twist it upwards, to snap the stalk. By cupping the fruit in your hand, rather than holding it with your fingers, you are less likely to bruise it. This is especially important if the fruit is to be stored. Soft fruit such as currants, raspberries and strawberries will not store but can be frozen or made into jams, jellies, sauces or chutneys. Keep your vegetables in a cool place. A garage or garden shed is ideal if they are not to be used immediately. Leafy crops such as salads and herbs should be stored in the fridge. Vegetables and fruit which are to be stored should be checked over for any signs of damage that may have occurred during harvest. Only blemish free fruit and vegetables should be stored and these should be checked regularly whilst in store. Always make harvesting your last job during hot weather. Vegetables will keep much longer (and taste fresher!) if they are not left in a hot car or in hot sun before being taken home.