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A common question from gardeners is when to harvest different fruiting crops. A fruiting crop is not fruit, but a vegetable that bears “fruit” that you eat, instead of eating the leaves or root of the plant. Peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant are all fruiting crops. Knowing when to harvest them will help you get the maximum fruit from your labor.
Imagine that harvesting produce is like starting a timer, with the timer starting as soon as the vegetable is picked & sitting on your kitchen counter. The longer that timer runs, the less flavorful, nutrient-dense, and crisp that vegetable will be. Therefore, it is important that fruiting crops are left on the vine until they’re ready to be eaten rather than sitting on the counter or in the fridge for days.
For crops with flexible harvest dates the ideal harvest period is any time within a few weeks of the beginning of their prime harvest season, assuming the weather stays relatively consistent. These crops are the ones that you want to wait to pick until the day it will be eaten, with bell peppers being a perfect example. Harvesting flexible crops as you need them, instead of all at once, allows them to continually ripen and maintain their fresh flavor.
At Green City Growers, we are able to continually harvest a variety of peppers from our R&D garden as we need them for delicious staff meals like Quinoa Stuffed Peppers and Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili.
Crops that need to be harvested regularly must be picked as soon as their fruits turn ripe. This is especially important because the fruit of these crops will rot or over-mature to the point that they get rough, lose their flavor, and can even grow to enormous proportions.
Squash, zucchini, tomatoes, and cucumbers are some of the most popular vegetables that fall into this category. Zucchini will keep growing and growing, eventually becoming completely tasteless. Then there’s nothing left to do but stuff them with cheese.
A complete list of vegetable harvest dates is available in our book The Urban Bounty: How to Grow Fresh Food Anywhere, along with a recipe section for how to use your harvest.
Unfortunately, once the frost hits, it’s time to say goodbye to all fruiting crops. If you plan to continue growing your own food using season extension, there are a multitude of fall crops that will fit under hoop houses or cold frames and better tolerate the colder weather.