How to Know When It’s Time to Harvest - Modern Farmer

How to Know When It’s Time to Harvest

Here’s our guide that will help you recognize the signs.

Freshly harvested carrot babies.
Photography by LedyX on Shutterstock.

If you’re one of the many people who decided to start a garden in the midst of the pandemic, chances are your little seedlings are well on their way to becoming food. 

Over the past few months, you’ve sowed your seeds, watered them, nurtured them and watched them grow. You can’t wait to cook them up and see all your hard work pay off, but you’re not exactly sure when to take your homegrown goodies out of the garden. 

We’ve put this guide together to help recognize the signs for when your produce is ready to eat. Happy harvesting! 

Lettuce: 

Lettuce is often one of the first vegetables to mature in an early garden.

For romaine lettuce, it takes between 50 and 75 days before the lettuce is ready. To recognize when it’s ripe enough for picking, your leaves should be dark green, crisp and anywhere from six to 10 inches tall. You’ll notice that the outer leaves will wrinkle a bit on the edges. Inner leaves overlap and look densely packed. The lettuce base itself should also be about three inches wide.

You can break off a leaf to test if it’s time to take your lettuce out of the garden. If it makes a snapping noise when you break it in half that means it’s reached peak crispness for harvest. 

Leaf lettuce, in comparison, typically takes a little less time. Varieties tend to reach ripeness between 50 and 60 days. Look for outer leaves that are about four to six inches tall. They should also have a well-ruffled look to them and be rich in color. Another indicator is when the leaves change their appearance from being glossy to matte. As soon as you notice this change, it’s time to take them out of the garden. 

Carrots:

Carrots take about 60-90 days before they’re ready for harvest. 

To tell if it’s time to pull your carrot out of the soil, you’ll need to look at the top of the stem for the base. Usually, the crown of the carrot will have poked its way through the surface of the soil, but if not, you can dig around the stem with your hands. Look for a carrot crown that is ¾ to 1 inch in diameter and vibrant orange in color. 

It’s important to note that while carrots do often mature around the same time, they don’t always. You don’t have to harvest them all at once. 

Corn: 

Corn takes about 60 to 100 days before it’s ready to be harvested. 

The first sign of a harvest-ready corn is when its silk tassels go from green to brown. This is usually 20 days from when the tassels first appear on the corn.

The corn should also be growing on an angle away from the stalk. As the corn develops, it fills out from bottom to top, so when it’s ready, you shouldn’t have any loose space at the top of the husk.

You can also take a peek at the kernels. Open up part of the husk to have a look inside, and if the kernels are yellow, it’s a good sign. The next way to determine if your kernels are ripe is by piercing one. If you get a milky liquid that comes out, that means your corn is good to go. If it’s watery, wrap the corn back up tightly and leave it for a few more days. 

Beans

Bush beans or green beans will be ready for harvest about 50 to 60 days after planting. 

Look for a bean that is about 3 inches long. The pods should also be smooth and you don’t want to see the outline of the seed. When bean pods are budging, it means they are past their peak. 

Another way to tell if a bean is mature is by picking it off the vine and bending it in half. If it snaps open without any difficulty, that’s also a good sign. 

Radishes: 

It can also be difficult to tell when radishes have fully developed, as they grow in the ground. They take an average of anywhere from 20 to 60 days to mature depending on the variety. 

For a harvest-ready radish, check the top of the radish attached to the stem. It should be about an inch in diameter. 

It’s important to note that if radishes are left in the ground too long they will start to flower and reproduce, which then causes them to develop a pithy texture and sharp undesirable flavor. A stalk that reaches three feet or taller means it’s reached this point. Don’t let it grow beyond this height and don’t let the stalks flower before you harvest. 

Potatoes: 

Once you’ve planted your potatoes, you should start to see the tops flower about six to eight weeks later. That means that there are potatoes that have developed underneath those flowers. You could harvest anytime after that. 

However, if you want larger potatoes, you’re going to want to wait and not harvest immediately. Most varieties take at least 90 to 100 days to mature from the time of planting and some take even longer. A good indicator that your potatoes aren’t going to grow anymore is if the tops start to die off when they start to topple over and yellow a bit. You want just a little bit of green left on the foliage, but not a lot. When you see this happening, it’s a good time to pull them out of the ground. 

Cauliflower: 

Cauliflower takes on average 85 to 130 days to mature if being grown by seed.  

In order to determine if it’s ready to be harvested, you should monitor the head of the plant. You will see that the head starts to form right in the center of the plant. Around harvest time, the plant leaves will start to open up and reveal the head. 

Cauliflower is at an ideal size when its head is about six to 12 inches in diameter. It should still be firm and not feel soft or spongy. Another good indicator is if the florets are tightly packed together. There shouldn’t be any brown discoloration or blemishes. The color of a perfect cauliflower head is white or ivory. You’ll know that it’s overripe when it starts to turn yellow and develops a ricey texture. Make sure you cut it loose before it gets to this point. 

Broccoli: 

Broccoli reaches maturity between 100 and 150 days from the time it’s planted by seed. 

Similar to cauliflower, when you first start to see the introduction of a broccoli head in the middle of the plant, you’re going to want to keep an eye on it. They can grow pretty fast. A good sign that broccoli is ready to harvest is that its buds on the head are still tight without any spaces. Once they open or if little tiny yellow flowers appear, you’re going to want to harvest it, no matter what size it is. 

The broccoli head should be anywhere from four to eight inches depending on the variety. Touch the head and give it a squeeze. It should also be firm. If it gives a bit when you squeeze it, it’s past its prime and you should take it out of your garden as soon as possible. 

Peas:

It takes about 55 to 70 days before peas can be harvested from the time they are planted. 

With snap peas, you can’t tell by their size when they should be picked. You have to rely on how they feel instead. Squeeze the pod and feel for the peas. You want them to just be the size of the pod itself, but not busting open. Pods should be pretty firm, but still have a little bit of give. If you want, you can break one of the pods open in half to see how much space the peas are taking. If there’s just a slight amount of space between the pea and the wall of the pod, this means your peas are ready for eating. 

For snow peas, you’ll need to look at the seed pod. The pod needs to be at least the length of your four fingers stacked beside each other. Pick them when you see a very slight outline of the seeds. It’s important to pick your peas before the seeds start bulging in the pod because when they do, the pod starts to get really fibrous and loses its taste.   

Onions: 

Spring onions can be ready to take out of the ground about 50 days or eight weeks after planting. For full-sized bulbs, it takes about 100 to 175 days. 

When spring onions reach a height of about six inches or taller with stems that are ¼ inch thick, it’s an ideal time to pull them out of your garden. 

For bulb onions, a good sign for harvesting is when stalks start to flop. This happens at the neck of the onion and it means that the plant has stopped growing. Sometimes the stalk itself will start to flop, which can easily be misinterpreted. You need to look at the neck and see if it’s bent flat. Sometimes it also turns a little bit white. If the neck is still stiff, this means it’s not ready yet.  

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Nico Durand
2 months ago

Very useful, thank you!
What about garlic?

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