Presented and written by Barb Danielewski, Master Gardener in Training

August 13th, 2020

Harvesting is what we dream of when we first start planting.

It’s easier to get out into the garden to harvest regularly (2-3 times a week) if you have a dedicated bowl or basket and set of harvesting tools by the door.

The purpose of harvesting might be for your lunch or dinner, or for maintenance of your crops.

Bigger isn’t always better: raw zucchini for salads and snacking is best harvested when it’s small, whereas the big zucchinis are useful in stews, breads, and sauces. You’ll know your zucchini is ready when the flower begins to turn brown (or if it’s already fallen off).

Herbs grow better when they are pruned regularly, and when flowering heads are removed. That way the plant can continue putting energy into growing new, tender leaves.  And bonus, you can bring the prunings in to dry or use! To encourage bushy growth, many plants love it when you cut the stem at the top of a new set of leaves. Look for tiny leaves growing in the “elbows” of your basil, mint, and other herbs. Prune back to that point and you will increase your harvest! Don’t cut more than 1/3 of the plant off at a time, or it could inhibit growth.  

Herb patches can be divided into quadrants or zones and harvested in bulk over a span of time. Cilantro, with a harvest period of only a few weeks, really benefits from this harvest method.

Timing is important. Harvesting first thing in the morning means the leaves and veggies will be cooler. However, plants like tomatoes, zucchini, basil, and beans prefer to be harvested after the dew lifts. Moisture on the leaves of these plants can hitch a ride on your hands or move from leaf to leaf, and encourage plant diseases to spread through your garden.

Not sure when your squash or eggplant will be ready? Mark expected harvest dates on your calendar using the dates provided on your seed package.

That, along with harvest “indicators” can help you harvest with confidence.

I like to use a dedicated set of knives for harvesting, because the constant contact with soil and water can dull sharp kitchen knives quickly. It’s also nice to be able to have them by the door ready to go. After I harvest, I like to clean my tools with warm water or soap and dry them thoroughly afterwards. If there were plant diseases in the garden, I would sanitize the tools with rubbing alcohol.

Harvesting Tools: Dedicate a Set or Go Pro!

  • First 2 knives are dedicated kitchen knives for harvesting only!
  • Third and fourth knives are for Lettuce and Harvest Knife from Johnny’s Seeds

Harvesting doesn’t stop in the field or garden!

I gather my harvest into dedicated totes, buckets, or lightweight bowls that stay outdoors. I fill them with cold water to soak root veggies to help the mud come off, rinse off garden pests from leafy greens, or rinse muddy crops before they come into my kitchen. If you harvest a lot and want to improve your setup, staple chicken wire to a wood frame to create a drip table to dry off your veggies. You can also use it to spray roots with a garden hose.

Astrid notes that you can pour this water (and soil!) directly back into your garden, but let it warm up to ambient temperature first.

The benefit to using very cold water after harvesting your crops is that it immediately cools them down which helps maintain freshness. Water transfers heat away from veggies 15 times faster than air.

by Barb Danielewski, Master Gardener in Training