When to Harvest Your Fruit and Vegetable Crops

I often get asked, “How do you know when _ is ready to harvest?”. It’s a good question to ask, because after you have taken all the time and energy to grow a plant, you want to be sure to make the most of it by harvesting it at the optimal time.

Considerations for Best Harvest Times

  • specific variety of plant and its average days to maturity
  • signals from the plant
  • time of day
  • weather elements

How to Know the Time Frame For When an Edible Crop Will Be Ready to Harvest

This is often called the days to maturity for plants and is on most seed packets. Typically, it is on the front side of the packet and says either _ days from transplanting, _ days to maturity or _ days. This can vary greatly from variety to variety, so don’t assume that, for example, just because it’s a tomato plant it will take around 90 days. Some varieties are ready for harvest in 50 days. Read more about how to read a seed packet.

With that said, the days to maturity is based on the plant growing in ideal conditions. There will be variables in your growing space, and it might take longer. Be sure to use this as a guideline only and then look for clues from the plant that it is ready to harvest. For example, onion tops turn yellow at the tips and fall over. The clues are different for each plant, although it is often similar among family members.

When is the Best Time of Day to Harvest Edible Crops

The short answer of when to harvest crops

Harvest warm season crops first thing in the morning and cool season crops in mid-morning after dew and frost have cleared. This is easy for me to remember because I want to beat the heat and head out first thing in the summer. In winter, I want to stay warm inside longer and head out to harvest once the sun is up. While this method has been working well for me for years now, if you dig deeper into the science, the peak times for harvest can become more complicated.

The long answer of when to harvest crops

If you want to know more about the science behind peak harvest times – or just like to get a bit geeky – the answer has to do with cellular respiration and the way it continues after your plants are harvested.

What Weather Elements Should Be Considered When Harvesting Crops

Does Rain Affect Harvest Times?

In addition to the information above, you don’t want to harvest during or shortly after a rain due to moisture-related diseases. Creating a wound on the plant from your harvest causes the plant to be more susceptible to disease. Likewise, you want to wait until after the dew has cleared in the morning before harvesting fruits and vegetables.

Do Frost and Freezing Temperatures Affect Harvest Times?

As far as freezing temperatures go, many cool season vegetables become sweeter after a freeze. However, not all will survive. Some produce that gets frost damage may bounce back, especially if the entire plant isn’t infected. If it goes limp, however, it’s best to toss it in the compost because it won’t bounce back.

Warm season vegetables typically won’t survive a frost or freezing temperatures. If they do, they shouldn’t be kept long after being exposed to low temperatures because of bacteria issues, so don’t use these for canning for long term storage.

According to multiple sources, rhubarb can become toxic, if limp, after a freeze so you will want to remove those from your garden and not eat them as well.

Harvesting your produce after putting in all of your hard work is one of the most rewarding parts of gardening! Above all, enjoy it and be proud of your efforts.

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