Harvesting your vegetables at the right time has several advantages. First, and most obvious, is flavor. Veggies just taste better when they are picked at the peak of ripeness. But what is that? Here are some guidelines.
Pick bush beans when they are two or three inches long. If you wait until the beans inside of the pods make visible bulges, the bean will be tough and taste starchy.
Pick cucumbers before they start to turn yellow. They are best when eaten at the small to medium stage.
Summer squash, including zucchini, is ready when it is medium size and the rind is easily dented with a fingernail. It is important to keep squash picked, as it, along with sugar peas, cucumbers, peppers, beans and eggplant, will stop forming new fruits if mature ones are left on the vine. This is because the plant hormones tell the plant that its job is done — seeds for next year's crop have been produced. So, in order to keep these plants making more food for you, keep them well picked to prevent that message from being sent to the plant.
Size is not a good indicator of ripeness when it comes to tomatoes, but color is. If you have a tomato that is not red, such as Sungold, yellow pear or any of the many other varieties that don't turn red, some taste experimentation will guide you. As a general rule, leave them on the vine as long as possible for best flavor. And do remember that tomatoes, no matter the color, should never be refrigerated, as that spoils both texture and flavor.
Peppers are usually late in maturing. Green varieties should be firm and shiny when picked; wait for red varieties to turn fully red before harvesting.
Broccoli stalks should be firm and tender and picked before the head shows signs of flowering. After cutting the main head, side shoots will develop for further harvesting.
Check for sweet corn maturity by gently squeezing the tip of the ear. You will be able to feel if the cob is full or needs more time to fill out. This test applies to buying corn at the market, too. Just because it was picked and sent to market does not mean it was at its peak.
For carrots, brush away some of the soil near the top of the root to see if it has grown big enough to eat. Although carrots can be pulled and eaten at any time, giving them enough time to form large roots will help develop the flavor.
Watch for the tendrils or "pigtails" on the watermelon plant to turn from green to brown. The place where it rested on the ground should turn from white to yellow, and the slap or thump you give it should sound soft and hollow, not like a metallic ring.
Cantaloupe skin under the netting on the surface should be cream-colored, not green, and it should slip off the vine easily when you press the stem.
What is more satisfying than harvesting the bounty of your garden — also known as the fruits of your labor? Ahh, I can think of nothing better as I crunch my fresh cucumber.
Coming up: Hear an evening of OSU Master Gardener Plant Clinic garden conversation from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 23. Bring your questions, and a panel of four Master Gardeners will address them. The meeting will be at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road, in Central Point. Cost is $5. Call 541-776-7371 for information.
Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at email@example.com.