Vegetable Gardening in Mississippi
Harvesting the Garden
Gardening itself is a lot of fun, but harvest is what gardeners work toward. Harvesting at the right time is essential to obtain quality. If you pick vegetables too soon, they can be tough or too tender, lacking substance and flavor. If you pick them too late, they may be tough, fibrous, or too soft.
The number of days from planting to maturity is generally listed in catalog descriptions. For vegetables commonly started with transplants, such as tomatoes and peppers, the number of days given is from setting plants in the garden to harvest. For vegetables that are typically direct-seeded in the garden, such as peas and sweet corn, the number represents the days from planting the seed.
The number of days given represents an average and varies with weather and variety. Cool-season vegetables mature more rapidly as weather warms in late spring; warm-season vegetables mature more slowly as weather cools in fall. Early varieties mature more rapidly than mid- and late-season varieties. Use the number of days as a guide, but also consider the weather, the variety description of early, midseason, or late, and the appearance of the vegetables.
Asparagus—cut or snap spears when they are 6 to 8 inches tall and before leaf bracts at the tips begin to open. Harvest spears of large and small diameter, but leave 20 to 50 percent of the spears to grow to provide energy for next year’s crop.
Beans, snap—best when pods are crisp and snap easily but when tips are still pliable, 50 days for bush, 65 days for pole.
Beans, lima—pick when pods are well-filled but still bright green and fresh. End of the pod should feel spongy when squeezed, 65 days for bush, 80 days for pole.
Beans, shell—harvest when beans are very evident in the pods but before pods begin to dry, very much like lima beans and southern peas, 70 days.
Beans, dried—harvest when pods are dry but before they shatter. Plants may be turning yellow. Cut entire plant and dry or pick the pods. When the beans are completely dry, shell them and store in the freezer, 90 days.
Beets—pull when medium-sized (11⁄4 to 2 inches in diameter), 60 to 70 days; leafy tops are an excellent cooked green.
Broccoli—heads should be compact with tight buds. Individual bud and head size determined by variety, 65 to 75 days from transplants yet within the same time period from direct seeding in the fall. Yellow flowers indicate overmaturity.
Brussels sprouts—cut sprouts from the stalk when they are 1 to 2 inches in diameter and firm, 90 days from transplants. Lower sprouts develop first. Remove the leaf when cutting the sprout.
Cabbage—cut when head is firm and before splitting, 80 days from transplants.
Carrots—harvest according to desired size and weather. Sugar content is higher in mature roots, but younger ones are more tender, 75 days.
Cauliflower—cut when head is firm and smooth, should not be coming apart or ricey in appearance, 65 days from transplants. Pure white color depends on blanching. Creamy color is fine.
Chinese cabbage—cut entire plant at the ground line when the head is fairly compact or the plant has reached the desired size, 80 days.
Collards—as soon as leaves are large enough to pick. Large, old leaves are tough and fibrous, 55 days.
Sweet corn—17 to 21 days after silking. Harvest when silks turn dark and begin to shrivel. Kernels should be bright, plump, and milky, except super sweets, which may appear watery. Small, soft kernels and large, hard, starchy kernels are tasteless, 70 to 85 days.
Cucumbers, pickling—pick when 2 inches or less in length for pickles and 4 to 6 inches for dills. Use large cucumbers for relish. Harvest before cucumbers become dull, puffy, or yellow. Frequent harvest is necessary, 55 days.
Cucumbers, slicing—harvest when 6 to 8 inches long and before the ends become soft or begin to turn yellow, 62 days.
Cucumbers, burpless and European types—harvest when 8 to 10 inches long and 1 to 11⁄2 inches in diameter.
Eggplant—ready when fruit is half grown, before color dulls, 65 to 85 days from transplants.
Endive, escarole—cut plants at ground level when large enough to eat, 85 days.
Gourds, small decorative—cut from the vine with stem attached when the rind is hard, before frost.
Gourds, dipper and birdhouse—cut from the vine with stem attached when they begin to dry. Mature gourds are not injured by frost.
Gourds, luffa—cut from the vine when skin turns yellow or after the gourd has dried. For eating, harvest when small (4 inches or less in length) and tender.
Horseradish—dig roots in late fall after frost. Where soil doesn’t freeze and is well drained, roots can be left in the ground until needed.
Jerusalem artichoke—dig tubers all winter after the tops are killed by cold.
Kale—cut entire plant or larger leaves while still tender. Old kale is tough and stringy. Cold weather improves flavor, 55 days.
Kohlrabi—pull when swollen stem is the size of a baseball. Large, old kohlrabi is woody and tasteless, 55 days.
Lettuce, leaf—when leaves are large enough to harvest, 40 to 50 days.
Lettuce, head—harvest for leaves as needed before heads form or as soon as heads are firm, 80 days.
Melons, muskmelons—ready when blossom end of fruit gives to pressure from finger and melon separates (slips) easily from stem. Netting should be coarse and prominent according to variety and with no green lines showing, 42 to 46 days from pollination, 90 days from seed.
Melons, honeydew—when the greenish rind takes on a golden cast, melon does not slip from the vine, 110 days from planting.
Melons, watermelons—ready when undersurface (ground spot) turns from white to cream-yellow, 42 to 45 days from pollination, 90 days from planting.
Mustard—as soon as large enough to harvest, old leaves are tough, 45 days.
Okra—pick when pods are 2 to 4 inches long, 4 to 6 days from pollination, 60 days from planting.
Onions, green—when one-fourth to one-half inch in diameter and tops are 12 to 16 inches tall.
Onions, bulb—dig when tops have yellowed and fallen over.
Parsley—when leaves are large enough to pick, 90 days.
Peanuts—dig when tops are yellowing and inner hulls are brown. All pods do not mature at the same time, but dig the entire plant, 110 days.
Peas, English—best when pods are bright green and fairly well filled. Raw peas should be sweet, 65 days.
Peas, snap—best when pods are green, crisp, and peas have filled pods, 65 days.
Peas, southern—pick purple hull varieties when pod is up to 50 percent purple. Pick tan pod types when pods show a hint of yellow. Peas should be green when shelled, 65 days.
Peppers—pick green bell peppers when shiny green and firm, 75 days from transplants. Colored peppers are harvested when fully colored, yellow, red, etc. Pimiento should be fully red. Sweet banana and hot Hungarian Wax are harvested when fully yellow, turning red, or fully red. Harvest hot pepper when green or fully colored.
Potatoes, Irish—as soon as large enough for early potatoes. Harvest main crop after vines have yellowed. Greenish or sunburned potatoes are not good. Skin should be firmly attached to tuber, 100 days.
Potatoes, sweet—when roots have reached a usable size. Before frost or ground cools below 50 °F, 120 days.
Pumpkins—when fully colored, hard rind, and heavy, 110 days.
Radishes—pull as soon as large enough, 28 days.
Radishes, winter—harvest before ground freezes, 50 days.
Rhubarb—pull leaf stalks from plants when leaves are fully grown. Discard leaf blade and eat the stalk only.
Rutabagas—dig any time large enough. Becomes dry and woody if soil moisture is insufficient, 90 days.
Spinach—use before leaves get old and tough, 45 days.
Spinach, New Zealand—pick terminal 3 to 4 inches of shoots when plants get large enough.
Squash, summer—when medium in size, color good, and rind easily dented with fingernail; zucchini when 6 to 10 inches long and shiny, 55 days from planting; yellow summer 5 to 7 days from pollination, zucchini 3 to 4 days from pollination.
Squash, winter (storage)—color should be good for the variety and the rind very hard, 90 days; acorn 60 days from pollination, butternut 65 days from pollination, hubbard 85 days from pollination.
Swiss chard—as soon as large enough to pick off leaves, from about 12 inches up. Old leaves are tough and fibrous, 50 days.
Tomatoes—when color is good all over. Size is no indication of maturity. Will ripen off the plant, but quality is better when ripened on the plant. Reduce bird damage by picking before fully colored, 70 days from transplants; 45 days from pollination.
Turnips, greens—when large enough to pick. Tough, fibrous, and bitter when old.
Turnips, roots—best when of medium size and firm. Large turnips tough and strongly flavored, 60 days.
Keep these points in mind when harvesting vegetables: