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When to Harvest

Vegetable Seed Guide

To get the best taste, texture and cooking quality, vegetables should be harvested at optimum maturity. This chart indicates the best stage of growth to harvest. Another aid to planning a successful garden is the “Days to Maturity” date printed on each seed package and in this guide. This is based on normal growing conditions and will indicate how many days until the plant reaches optimum maturity.

Vegetable Part Eaten Too Early Optimum Maturity Too Late
Artichoke, Globe Immature bloom Small flower buds When buds are 2" to 4" in diameter Large buds with loose scales or bracts
Asparagus Stem Insufficient length 6" to 8" long; no fiber Excess woody fiber in the stem
Beans, Lima Seed Insufficient bean size Bright green puffy pod; large seed Yellow pods
Beans, Pole Green Pod and seed Insufficient size Bean cavity full; seed ¼ grown Large seed; fibrous pods
Beans, Snap Bush Pod and seed Insufficient size Turgid pods; seeds just visible Fibrous pods; large seed
Beets Root and leaves Insufficient size Roots 2" to 3" in diameter Pithy roots; strong taste
Broccoli Immature bloom Insufficient size Bright green color;
bloom still tightly closed
Loose head;
some blooms beginning to show
Brussels Sprouts Head Insufficient size;
hard to harvest
Bright green; tight head Loose head;
color changes to green-yellow
Cabbage Head Insufficient leaf cover Heads firm; leaf tight Loose leaf; heads cracked open
Cantaloupes Fruit Stem does not want to separate from fruit Stem breaks away easily
and cleanly when pulled
Yellow background color; soft rind
Carrots Root Insufficient size ½" to ¾" at shoulder Strong taste; oversweet
Cauliflower Immature bloom Head not developed Compact head; fairly smooth Curds open; separate
Celery Stems Stem too small Plant stands 12" to 15" tall; medium-thick stem Seed stalk formed; bitterness
Collards Leaf Insufficient leaf size Bright green color; small midrib Large midrib; fibrous
Corn, Sweet Grain Grain watery; small Grain plump; liquid in milk stage Grain starting to dent;
liquid in dough stage
Cucumber Fruit Insufficient size Dark green skin; soft seeds Skin beginning to yellow; hard seeds
Eggplant Fruit Insufficient size High glossy skin;
side springs back when mashed
Brown seeds;
side will not spring back when mashed
Lettuce, Head Leaves Head not fully formed Fairly firm; good size Heads very hard
Okra Pod Insufficient size 2" to 3" long; still tender Fiber development; tough pods
Onions, Dry Bulb Tops all green Tops yellow; ¾ fallen over All tops down; bulb rot started
Peas, English Seed Peas immature and too small to shell Peas small to medium;
sweet bright green
Yellow pods; large peas
Peas, Southern (green) Seed and pod Peas immature and too small to shell Seeds fully developed but still soft;
soft pods
Hard seeds; dry pods
Pepper, Pimiento Pod Insufficient size Bright red and firm Shriveled pod
Pepper, Red Bell Pod Chocolate-colored pods Bright red and firm Shriveled pod
Potato, Irish Tuber Insufficient size When tops begin to die back Damaged by freezing weather
Potato, Sweet Root Small size; immature Most roots 2" to 3" in diameter Early plantings get too large and crack; damaged by soil temperature below 50°F
Rhubarb Stem Small size; immature Stem 8" to 15" long is best Fleshy stem becomes fibrous
Soybeans Seed Seeds not developed Thick pods; bright green Dry pods; seed shatters out
Squash, Summer Fruit Insufficient size Rind can be penetrated with thumbnail

Penetrating with thumbnail is difficult; large seed

Squash, Winter Fruit Soft rind Rind difficult to penetrate
with thumbnail
Damaged by frost
Tomatoes Fruit May be harvested in three stages:

Mature green – tomato is firm and mature, color changes from green to light green, no pink color showing on blossom end. These tomatoes will store one to two weeks in the refrigerator.

Pink – pink color about the size of a dime on the blossom end. At room temperature, these tomatoes will ripen in about three days.

Ripe – tomato is full red but still firm. Should be used immediately.

Watermelon Fruit Green flesh; green stem is difficult to separate Melon surface next to the ground
turns from a light straw color
to a richer yellow
Top surface has a dull look

*Disclaimer: This guide contains recommendations for the mid-atlantic and south eastern regions of the United States. Climate and dates may vary per year. Be sure to verify weather conditions for your area. A climate zone map can typically be found at your local county extension office. You can also contact your local Southern States for advice and information on growing your garden.

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