Home & Garden

How to harvest fruits and vegetables from your garden

By: Frankie Flowers

Author: Canadian Living

Home & Garden

How to harvest fruits and vegetables from your garden

By: Frankie Flowers
From the pages of Frankie Flowers's book, Get Growing, here are Frankie's tried and true tips and techniques for harvesting your garden's bounty this fall.

I'm Italian, so for me fall means roasting peppers, preparing tomatoes for sauce and pickling eggplants. Knowing when to harvest these vegetables is important, and it can be tricky to determine the right time. Here are my tips, in approximate order of when they're ready:


Pick cucumbers when they are firm and dark green. Slicing cucumbers are ready when they are 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8 inches) long. Pickling cukes should be about 5 cm (2 inches) for sweet pickles. Varieties used for dills should be about 10 to 15 cm (4 to 6 inches). Process them immediately if you want crunchy pickles: if stored too long, they become soft.

Broccoli should be cut when the clusters are tight and green – before they separate and begin to flower. Cut early in the morning to avoid wilting. Do not remove the whole plant: cut above a place where the plant branches out. Then you may get a second, smaller crop.

Cut cauliflower when the heads are tight and white – before they turn yellow. Cut early in the day when the sugars are high in the stem.

Peppers can be picked at any time after they've reached full size. You can pick red bell peppers when they're still green, although they'll be much sweeter when they change to red. Just make sure you pick them before the first frost. Peppers will have a longer shelf life if a bit of stem is left on.

Learn more: Learn how to freeze 5 common garden veggies.

Page 1 of 3 – Are your tomatoes ready for the picking? Learn when to harvest common garden fruits and veggies on page 2.

Tomatoes are ready to pick when they have a full, even colour. Don't let them get too big or they will split or crack. Use a sharp knife or clippers when picking tomatoes, leaving a bit of stem to help retain flavour. Never pull them off the vine, as you could damage the plant. If there is a frost warning before your tomatoes are ripe, pick them anyway and bring them indoors to ripen.

You can tell when potatoes are ready to harvest at this time of year because the vines will die back and turn brown. (New potatoes are dug earlier, as soon as the flower has faded.) After digging, be sure to keep potatoes in a cool, dark and dry spot. The sun causes them to develop a green skin that is actually toxic.

Related: The 5 most delicious ways to use up potatoes.

Eggplants are ready for picking when they are 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8 inches) long and are firm and shiny.

Corn is ready when the silks turn darker than their original colour. Open the cob slightly in one place and check by squeezing a kernel: if a milky fluid squirts out, it's ready. For the best flavour, pick corn right before you're ready to eat it: the longer it is left, the more the sugars will turn to starch.


Ask any farmer growing onions and they'll tell you that when the tops fall over and turn yellow, it's harvest time.

Garlic is ready to harvest when the lower half of the leaves are brown. Harvest before the wrapper on the bulb begins to break down. Take garlic out of the sun immediately to keep the flavour.

You know cantaloupes are ready when the skin has a netted texture. At this point the cantaloupe will separate from the vine with a gentle tug.

Watermelon does not ripen further after picking, so be sure yours is ready before you harvest it. Look at the vine: if it is withered close to the melon, it's probably time. If the melon has a white underbelly and a dull skin, and if it sounds hollow when knocked on, it's ready.

Page 2 of 3 – Find Frankie's fall garden checklist on page 3.

Pumpkins that have turned from green to orange are ready to pick when the vine withers and the pumpkin has reached a good size. Leave a 10 cm (4-inch) stem on the pumpkin to keep it from rotting – and besides, a pumpkin just looks better with a stem.

Related: How to make pumpkin puree from fresh pumpkins.


As with pumpkins, squash are ready when the vine has withered. Check to be sure the shell and stem are hard: that's an indication that your squash will not rot.

Cut cabbage when heads feel very hard: if they're still soft when you squeeze them, they're not mature. Harvest them early on a cloudy day to avoid wilting and to retain flavour.

Your fall vegetable garden checklist
• Learn to recognize when your vegetables are ready to harvest.

• Pick tomatoes if there's a threat of frost and let them ripen off the vine.

• Remove and compost vegetable plants after they've finished producing.

• Plant a crop of green manure to enrich the soil for spring.

• Protect perennial crops such as strawberries, asparagus and rhubarb to ensure healthy production next year.

• Plant garlic to harvest next fall.

• Store your fall harvest of root vegetables in a cool, dry place so you can enjoy them for weeks.

• Take note of what worked and what didn't in your vegetable garden this year and make plans to improve next season.

Frankie's tip:
For maximum freshness and longer shelf life, harvest vegetables at about sunrise. Cool temperatures make it more pleasant to work, and because of overnight lows your crops will have cooled off from the heat of the previous day.

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How to harvest fruits and vegetables from your garden