Harvesting Your Summer Produce at Peak

By Karen Eaton, Conservation Garden Park

Now that summer is half past and the produce in your garden is ripening, you may be wondering, “How do I know when to pick it?” It really depends on the vegetable, but most are best harvested when they are mature enough to eat but small enough to still be tender.


Green beans are best picked when thinner than a pencil. They can usually be picked every 2-3 days.

Beets, Carrots & Parsnips

Pick beets, carrots, and parsnips when they reach the size you want—you’ll see the shoulders of the root peeking above the surface. Keep in mind that the larger they are, the less flavorful and tender they will be.


Corn is best picked when the silk has turned brown but the husks are still green. The tip of the ear should be barely rounded and the color of the kernels light. Big, dark yellow kernels on ears are tough, dry and not as sweet.

Zucchini & Summer Squash

Zucchini or yellow summer squash can really sneak up on you. One day they are the size of a cheese stick and the next thing you know, you have one the size of a full-grown dachshund! They are most tasty at about 6-8 inches long, so check daily so they don’t get away from you.


Cucumbers, like zucchini, get tough skins and become seedy if allowed to grow too big. Harvest both when they are 6-8 inches long and 1- 1 ½ inches in diameter.


Cantaloupes are ready to harvest when their skins have changed from a greenish tan to a light yellow-tan, almost overnight. When you twist them a quarter turn on the vine, they should fall off. If you have to pull cantaloupes off the vine, they aren’t ready.

Honeydew melons are more difficult to tell when ripe, but their skins should turn from green to creamy white or slightly yellow.

Watermelon is also tricky. The tendril next to the stem should turn brown and the part of the fruit that sat on the soil should be yellow or white. When you thump on the melon, it should sound hollow instead of solid. It’s anybody’s guess exactly what that means, but once you learn the right sound, it seems to work almost every time. Melons will sweeten up a little if left on the counter a few days before cutting.


Tomatoes are picked based on color. Most tomatoes are reddish-orange in color but there are types, especially among the heirloom varieties, that offer tomatoes in shades of orange, yellow, pink, white, purple and brown, as well as mixes of these shades. Generally, the dark brown or purple tomatoes take more time to ripen. A ripe tomato will be intensely colored—whatever color it may be.


Peppers will keep on the vine for weeks so you can leave them until you’re ready to use them. If you have yellow, red or orange bell peppers, you can use them green or wait until they have turned color.

Many of us grow vegetables but we may be missing out on peak freshness because we aren’t sure when to pick them. Visit us at Conservation Garden Park to see our residential-size vegetable garden and learn more about what to grow.