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Picking tips for Vegetables
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This month's notes: April 2014: Blueberries are finishing in the Southern areas, still going in cooler areas, don't miss them! In most areas, peaches are going strong, as are figs. And apples have started. Sepetmber is the big month for apples! See each state's crop availability calendar for more specific dates. Organic farms are identified in green!  See our guide to local fruit and vegetable festivals!. See easy canning and freezing instructions/recipes, canning equipment guide! Also make your own ice cream - see How to make ice cream and ice cream making equipment and manuals
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Picking Tips for Vegetables!

(click here for fruit picking tips)

ASPARAGUS

 

Asparagus can be harvested the third year after planting crowns, but do not harvest for more than one month the first time. In the following years, the spears may be harvested in May and June. Harvest spears 5 to 8 inches tall by cutting them or snapping them off. Cutting may damage some spear tips that have not yet emerged from the ground. To snap a spear, bend it from the top toward the ground. Asparagus deteriorates rapidly after harvest. If it is not eaten immediately, it should be processed or refrigerated.

LIMA BEANS

 

Pick lima beans when the pods are well-filled but before they turn yellow. The end of the pod should feel spongy.

SNAP BEANS

 

Snap beans are best when the pods are firm and snap readily, but before the seeds within the pod develop. The tips should be pliable.

BEETS

 

Harvest beets when they are 1-1/4 to 2 inches in diameter. The beet tops can also be eaten as greens. The leaves should be 4 to 6 inches long.

BROCCOLI

 

Cut broccoli when the buds are compact but before they turn yellow or open into flowers. Leave 5 to 6 inches of stem attached. Side shoots that develop in the axils of the leaves can also be used.

BRUSSELS
SPROUTS

 

The small sprouts may be picked or cut when they are firm and about 1 inch in diameter. Pick the lower sprouts as soon as they are large enough for use. Lower leaves may be removed to allow more room for sprouts to develop.

CABBAGE

 

Cut the heads when they are solid, but before they crack or split. In addition to harvesting the mature heads, you can harvest a later crop of small heads or sprouts that develop on the stumps of the cut stems. The sprouts will be 2 to 4 inches in diameter and should be picked when they are firm.

CARROTS

 

Carrots are ready for use when they are young, crisp, and 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter. The sugar content is higher in mature carrots, but the younger ones are more tender. Carrots planted in the summer may be left in the ground until a killing frost. A straw mulch can be placed over the row so that the carrots can be harvested until the ground freezes solid.

CAULIFLOWER

 

Harvest before the heads become overmature and "ricey." The heads should be compact, firm, and white. To keep the head white, tie the outer leaves together over the center of the plant when the head begins to form. Cauliflower will grow 6 to 8 inches in diameter and is ready for harvest 7 to 12 days after blanching.

CHARD

 

Use the leaves as they become 8 to 10 inches long while they are still young and tender. New leaves will continue to grow from the center of the plant.

CHINESE
CABBAGE

 

Cut the entire plant at the ground line when the heads are compact and firm. Harvest before the seedstalks form in the early summer, and before freezing temperatures in the fall.

CORN

 

Pick corn when the silk turns dark and starts to shrivel. The kernels should be bright, plump, and milky. This stage occurs about 20 days after the appearance of the first silk strands. To harvest, snap off the ears by hand with a quick, firm, downward push; then twist and pull. Corn is at its prime eating quality for only 72 hours before becoming overmature.

CUCUMBERS

 

Cucumbers may be picked when they are 2 inches long or less for pickles, 4 to 6 inches for dills, and 6 to 8 inches for slicing varieties. A cucumber is at its highest quality when it is uniformly dark green, firm, and crisp. Cucumbers are past their prime if they are large, dull, puffy, and yellow. Remove old fruits from the vine so that young fruits will develop.

EGGPLANT

 

Harvest eggplant when the fruits are 6 to 8 inches long, glossy, and have a uniformly deep color. The fruits are overmature when they become dull, soft, and seedy. Use a knife or pruning shears to cut the fruit off the plant. Leave the green calyx attached to the fruit.

ENDIVE OR
ESCAROLE

 

Cut the plants at the ground level when they are fully developed (10 to 12 inches across) and the center leaves have been blanched.

GARLIC

Pull up the bulbs when the tops start to yellow and dry. Place the bulbs on screens to dry. When dry, trim the roots out close to the bulb, remove the loose outer sheaths, and store under cool, dry conditions.

GREEN BEANS

 

Beans are a warm weather crop, and can not tolerate any frost nor cold soil. In the U.S. green beans typically peak during July through October in the South, and in August and September in the North. But they can be ready as early as early June in many places, as they only take 45 to 60 days from the time the seed is planted! For more green bean picking, preserving and cooking tips, click here!
   

HORSERADISH

Dig the roots anytime from late fall after a hard freeze until growth starts in the spring.

JERUSALEM
ARTICHOKES

Dig the tubers anytime from September until after a frost, and in the spring before the new growth starts.
KALE Break off the outer leaves as they become 8 to 10 inches long. New leaves will continue to grow from the center of each plant.
KOHLRABI The best time to harvest is when the bulbous part is 2 to 3 inches in diameter (size of a golf ball). Large, older kohlrabi is tough and woody and may have an off flavor. The young leaves can be cooked like spinach.
LEEK Harvest in late summer and fall by loosening the soil with a spading fork and pulling out the plant. Cut off the roots and all but 2 inches of the green leaves.
LETTUCE Leaf lettuce reaches maximum size in 50 to 60 days. Cut or pull the outer leaves (4 to 6 inches long) as you can use them. Butterhead varieties form small, loose heads that are ready in 60 to 70 days.
MUSKMELONS They develop their best flavor when they ripen in warm, dry weather. As the melon ripens, the stem separates readily from the fruit. After harvesting, the fruit can be held at room temperature for 1 to 3 days until the blossom end softens.
MUSTARD Harvest the leaves when they are young and tender, about 6 to 8 inches long. In the summer, the leaves become tough and develop a strong flavor.
OKRA The okra pods should be harvested while they are immature and still tender (2 to 3 inches long). The large pods become tough and woody. The pods must be picked at least every other day if you want the plants to remain productive.
ONIONS Green onions may be harvested when the tops are 6 inches high and the stem is the thickness of a pencil. Harvest dry onions in late July or early August after most of the tops have fallen down. Allow the bulbs to air dry for a day or two after digging. Then they can be stored in a dry shelter on slats or screens, or hung in small bunches. Complete drying or curing takes 2 to 3 weeks. After curing, the tops should be cut 1-1/2 to 2 inches long. Place the bulbs in dry storage with good air circulation.
PARSNIPS Parsnips should be left in the ground until the tops freeze, since they are not fully flavored until after early frosts. The moderate sizes are best. Larger ones may be woody. If you do not have storage facilities, you can leave the roots in the ground and mulch them with straw so they can be dug up throughout the winter.
PEAS Pick them when the pod is full and green and the peas are still tender and sweet. Test for maturity frequently by picking a couple of pods and examining them for firmness. Harvest the Chinese and snow peas, which are eaten pod and all, when the pods are 1-1/2 to 2 inches long and the peas are about the size of BB's. The pods are usually picked 5 to 7 days after flowering.
PEANUTS Harvest in early to mid-October, before a hard freeze. The plants turn yellow when they are mature. Dig up the entire plant and shake the soil off the peanuts. Cure them by stacking the plants in an open shelter or by hanging them in a warm, dry shed or garage for a week. After the plants have dried, shake off any remaining soil and pull the peanuts from the vine. Continue to air dry for another week or two. When the peanuts are dry, they are ready to shell or roast.

PEPPERS

 

Fruits may be harvested at any size, but they are usually picked when they are full-grown and mature. They may be left on the plant to ripen fully to a red or yellow color, when they will be mellower and sweeter. Hot peppers, except Jalapeño (which remains green when ripe), are usually harvested at the red ripe stage.

POTATOES "New" potatoes can be dug before the vines die. For large potatoes, wait until the vines die. Use a spading fork. Dig 4 to 6 inches beneath the soil surface. Handle the tubers gently during harvest to avoid bruising.
PUMPKINS Allow them to ripen fully on the vine, but pick them before the first heavy freeze. The fruit should have a deep-solid color and a hard rind. Cut pumpkins from the vine, leaving 3 to 4 inches of the stem attached. Pumpkins without stems do not store well. Store in a cool, dry area (50° to 55°F.).
RADISHES For the best flavor, start thinning and eating radishes when they are the size of marbles. They will be good up to 1 inch in diameter. After that, they may become hot and pithy.
RHUBARB Do not harvest the first year. Harvest only for 1 to 2 weeks the second year. Thereafter, stalks may be harvested for 8 to 10 weeks. To harvest, pull the leafstalks from the plant. Only the stem (petiole) is used, since the leaves contain large amounts of oxalic acid and should not be eaten.
SPINACH Spinach may be harvested from the time the plants have 6 to 8 leaves until the seed stalk develops. For the best quality, cut while young. Cut the entire plant off at the soil surface.
SQUASH Summer squash should be harvested while still young and tender - 6 to 8 inches in length and 1-1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Scallop squash are best while small, 3 to 4 inches in diameter and a grayish or greenish-white in color. Squash grow rapidly and are usually ready to pick 4 to 8 days after flowering. Harvest winter squash when the vines have died back and the fruit has a hard ring, but before a heavy frost. Cut squash from the vines carefully, leaving 2 inches of stem attached. Avoid cuts and bruises. Store in a dry location at 50° to 55°F.
SWEET
POTATOES
Harvest in the fall before frost kills the vine. Handle carefully when digging to avoid bruises. After digging, let the roots lie exposed for 2 or 3 hours to dry thoroughly, then put them in a warm room at 85°F. to cure for about 10 days. Store at 50° to 55°F and 85 percent humidity.
TOMATOES During hot summer weather, pick the tomatoes when they have a healthy pink color and let them ripen indoors. Tomatoes do not need to be in the sunlight in order to ripen. If you have green fruit on the plants in the fall when frost is approaching, pick the tomatoes and store them in a cool, dark place to ripen.
TURNIPS Harvest when the roots are 2 to 3 inches in diameter. The tops can be used for greens when they are 4 to 6 inches long. Turnips can be left in the ground after a heavy freeze and mulched with straw for harvest during the early winter.
WATERMELONS Use a combination of the following indicators to determine when watermelons are ripe; (1) light-green, and when the curled tendril near the stem begins to shrivel and dry up; (2) the surface color of the fruit turns dull; (3) the skin is rough and resists penetration by a thumbnail; and (4) the bottom of a melon where it touches the ground turns from a light green to a yellowish color. Watermelons will not continue to ripen after harvest.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. I have a zillion tomatoes on the vine right now....So many in fact that I can not keep up with the canning of them. Is it possible to freeze the tomatoes whole and then later, when canning season starts to wind down, thaw them and then can them in a boiling water bath or pressure canner (depending on what I am making)?

A. Yes. In theory, you should blanch them first, but in practice, if they will only be in the freezer for a few months, I just use a 60 second blanch followed by ice cold water to slip the skins off, squeeze out excess water, then freeze them in a ziploc bag.

Ball home canning kit water bath canner

Home Canning Kits

This is the same type of  standard canner that my grandmother used to make everything from applesauce to jams and jellies to tomato and spaghetti sauce. This complete kit includes everything you need and lasts for years: the canner, jar rack, jar grabber tongs, lid lifting wand, a plastic funnel, labels, bubble freer, and the bible of canning, the Ball Blue Book. It's much cheaper than buying the items separately. You'll never need anything else except jars & lids! To see more canners, of different styles, makes and prices, click here!For more information and current pricing:



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     Ball and Mrs. Wages salsa canning mix

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