As a developing gardener, I spent this past winter and spring reading up on everything I would need to know about planning a vegetable garden. Seed selection, soil preparation, natural fertilizer and weeding. Yet I completely overlooked vegetable garden harvesting mistakes.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Maybe I was less than confident that anything I planted would actually grow! Yet now that we're planting our vegetable garden to feed our family, I can't afford to make beginner gardener mistakes. And as it turns out, harvesting vegetable mistakes are all too common with many backyard gardeners.
Maybe you're growing a small kitchen garden. Or, maybe you're like me and your main gardening goals include trying to secure your family's food supply. Either way, here are five mistakes many new gardeners make plus some tips and resources to help with your vegetable garden harvesting.
#1. Vegetable Garden Harvesting Too Late
That moment when you see your first vegetable garden shoots springing up through the soil is exciting, right? And watching your first garden growing through the summer can be so satisfying.
Yet don’t get so caught up in admiring your handiwork that you overlook the fact that it’s time to harvest. If so, you’ll deal with overripe veggies that could be moldy, rotten, and only good for the compost bin.
And not harvesting at the right time leads to overburdened branches and stalks, which can slow your garden’s production right down.
If you’re unsure of when it’s a good time to harvest your crops, the internet is full of great gardening resources for beginners. And this includes some free garden planners that include planting and harvesting timelines.
Do a quick Google search for the vegetable you’re interested in. Remember though, harvesting time depends on your growing zone. So either search for your zone and vegetable harvesting suggestions, or look for posts with images of what the vegetables will look like when they’re ready to pick.
Protect your vegetables against early frosts with cold frames or even a mini-greenhouse.
#2. Incorrect Prepping Methods for Harvested Veggies
Did you know that vegetables continue to ripen after they’re picked? You’ve probably seen examples of this. Maybe your grandma picked green tomatoes and left them to ripen on the old homestead kitchen window sill. (She probably knew how to save tomato seeds to plant again too.)
New gardeners can improve the chances of vegetables ripening well by being extra careful when removing them from the garden. Research the best time of day for picking the vegetables you’re ready to harvest. For example, crops like peas and sweet corn should be picked early in the morning (or right before you’re going to eat them) and kept cool for the best taste and quality.
And be gentle with your vegetable garden harvesting! When picking delicate veggies like cucumbers and tomatoes, treat them gently to avoid bruises and split skin that can lead to soft, mushy parts.
#3. Making The Wrong Choice About Washing Fresh Veggies Before Storing Them
If you’re a clean freak, when you're harvesting carrots in your vegetable garden, the dirt may not spark joy in your heart. And if these are to be part of today’s meal, go ahead and wash them.
Do you plan to successfully store these lovely vegetables that you worked so hard to grow? If so, make sure you follow the correct “wash/don’t wash” recommendations before storing them in your root cellar or pantry. And consider blanching them if you plan on freezing your veggies.
Keep this handy Texas A & M post on vegetable garden harvesting and handling vegetables bookmarked on your computer (or better yet, print it out and stick it to the front of your fridge or pantry door). It gives you a quick rundown on which veggies to wash immediately and which ones should get stored dirty.
#4. Incorrect Storage of Harvested Vegetables
Properly storing your picked vegetables can really improve their quality. And too many beginner gardeners don’t realize the damage that exposure to light, moisture, poor ventilation, and the wrong storage temperature can do to produce from a first vegetable garden.
Too much moisture in the storage area leads to a quickly rotting, moldy harvest. Poor ventilation leads to wilting and tissue breakdown in leafy vegetables and more fibrous veggies as well.
And the wrong temperature can lead to rotting produce, or as with onions, garlic, potatoes, and carrots, additional sprouting - not what you want if you’re planning to eat them, rather than save them for next year’s garden.
Tip: One of the best ways to store your vegetables in the long-term is to try canning them. Melissa K. Norris over at Pioneering Today has a free workshop on 5 Essential Steps to Safely Can at Home (affiliate link). Check it out!
#5. Missing Out on Succession Planting
Not all vegetables get planted and harvested just once a season. Some of them can be harvested several times, keeping you enjoying your garden’s bounty for months.
Depending on where you live, vegetables like lettuce, chives, and radishes can produce several crops over one growing season - but only if you take advantage of succession planting. This means planting new seeds every few weeks so a new crop can grow. Check the recommendations for your growing area.
Don’t let all the hard work of preparing and planting your first vegetable garden go to waste. Harvest each crop the right way to maximize the shelf life and quality so you and your family can enjoy the fruits of your labor!