In the excitement of growing your own food, it can sometimes be tempting to ‘grab and go’ but careful harvesting is an important part of enjoying fresh vegetables at their best and keeping your garden healthy. This season, wise up on how to harvest, and reap the rewarding results. To get you started, here are some tips on how to harvest a few of the more common vegetables.
Bush or ‘snap beans’ (along with some of the more slender, shiny varieties of runner beans) are best eaten when slim and brightly coloured. Don’t wait until the beans dull or until you can see the shape of the seed through the pod. By then, the bean will be turning tough and stringy. Flat-podded runner beans such as scarlet runner, should be harvested when the pod is no wider than your little finger. There are two options when harvesting broad beans. The first is to pick them before it’s possible to see the outline of the seed in the pod. At this stage the podded seed is bright green and tender, and delicious when steamed. The alternative is to harvest the beans once the shape of the seed is clearly visible in the pod. In this case, boil the shelled beans then peel them OR mince the entire seed, and cook as falafel.
Radish become hotter the larger they get. Harvest them as soon as they are finger width (or even smaller if they require thinning). To avoid them going soft or woody, grow them in cool weather (they are often thought of as a summer crop but are more suited to cool-season spring and autumn sowing).
Slice off the main head while it is still tightly compact. Always cut the stem on a slant to encourage moisture to drain quickly away (this lessens the chance of disease). Leave the plant in the soil and, thereafter, cut off smaller ‘brocolini’ as they appear (again, always cutting on a slant).
As soon as the white (or purple, orange or green, nowadays!) curd is visible, gently bring the leaves together over the top and secure with a rubber band or soft tie. If in a hurry, half break the outer leaves over the curd. Once the curd is ready for cutting, slice it off and remove the entire plant from the garden.
Harvest shelling peas once the seed is firm (but not hard) when gentle pressure is applied to the pod. Peas are fast growers and daily picking is required if they are not to spoil on the vine. Peas are shallow rooted so snip pods off the plant with scissors to avoid pulling the vine from the ground. Snow peas are ready to be snipped from the vine when glossy and well before the seed is visible in the pod. The seed of snow peas can completely fill the pod and still be tender so don’t be tempted to pick them too soon. Once again, snip with scissors – don’t pull from the vine.
Zucchini (and other small cucurbits)
Harvest the first fruit while it is still very small (finger size). This encourages more fruit to set. Thereafter, harvest as soon as the fruit is the size you desire. Leaving fruit unpicked is a sure way to tell your plant to set seed and cease production! The first flowers to appear are male (on long stems). Instead of wasting them, harvest most of them while they are partially open, dredge in flower and fry in tempura batter (yum!).
Leaves of open lettuce, rocket, radicchio and mustard greens can be harvested individually while the plant is left in the ground to keep producing. Rather than slicing off leaves with a knife, gently pull down on leaves, snapping them at the base but without ripping the skin of the main stem. Carefully harvested, leafy greens can keep producing for weeks.
Silver beet and spinach beet
Treated well, these hardy plants will keep producing throughout summer and right through winter and early spring. Choose leaves while they are young and tender, carefully slicing through stems (on a slant to encourage water to run off the cut). Pick from the base up (in the case of silver beet) and from the outside in (in the case of spinach beet).