Marianne C. Ophardt: Harvest vegetables early in morning

July 11, 2013 

This has been quite a year for gardeners who are hoping for a banner crop of tomatoes and other vegetables from their gardens.

First, we had a spell of cool weather that allowed cool-season crops to prosper, but warm-season veggies like tomatoes, squash and cucumbers just shivered and refused to grow. This cool weather was followed by unseasonably high temperatures and then more cool weather.

Now that warm weather appears to be here to stay, my warm-season crops are thriving and flowering.

One of the great things about growing your own vegetables is being able to harvest them at the “peak of perfection,” when they are full of flavor and nutrition. Because gardeners don’t have to worry about shipping their veggies, they can pick tomatoes when they are ripe and tasty.

Perfecting the skill in knowing when it’s time to harvest different vegetables takes some finesse and experience. Seed packets usually provide a guide of the average number of days from planting to maturity. However, this is just a “ballpark” figure that will fluctuate depending on weather and other growing conditions.

Vegetable experts recommend picking your veggies early in the morning because that’s when they are the crispest, juiciest and sweetest. Be careful when harvesting

your produce. Veggies picked at their peak of perfection are quite tender. If you aren’t able to easily twist the fruit from the plant, use a knife, hand pruners or garden sheers to cut them off the plant. Take care not to bruise or scratch the skin.

It’s important to keep up with your harvesting. This encourages the plants to keep blooming and producing fruit.

Occasionally, a zucchini will hide beneath the leaves and escape harvest until it is too big for good eating. These “escapees” still should be harvested and disposed of in the compost pile.

Harvesting tips

-- Tomato: Pick when they have developed a uniform color for the variety. Fruit should still be firm.

-- Summer squash (yellow, zucchini, patty pan): Harvest when small and tender, before the seeds start to develop. I like to harvest my zucchini before they get any longer than six inches, the same for yellow squash.

-- Carrots: Get these beauties out of the ground when they reach the desired size. It’s best to lift them out of the ground with a garden fork, especially the long-rooted types, rather than pulling them. Carrots left in the ground too long, especially during hot weather, will be woody and lose their sweet flavor.

-- Snap beans: As the name implies, these are best picked when they can be easily snapped in two and while the seeds are still small and not bulging. If you wait too long the pods will be tough and the beans starchy. Harvest frequently for the best quality and to keep the plants producing.

-- Peppers: There are now different colored varieties, such as purple, yellow and orange, but sweet peppers are best when shiny green and about three to four inches in diameter. They still can be used after they turn red or yellow. Hot peppers can be picked when still green or after they change color.

-- Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.

Donate extra food to Mid-Columbia food banks

With local gardens starting to produce, now is a good time to remind area gardeners that any extra produce they have from their gardens can be put good use at local food banks. The food banks welcome fresh garden vegetables that will help fight hunger and provide a healthier diet to the needy in our region, plus every pound you donate can be claimed as a $1.50 deduction.

Here is a list of the local food banks. Because most are staffed by volunteers, it's recommended that you first call to make sure they are open and available to take your donation. First United Methodist, 703 W. Clark St, Pasco, WA, 547-9731, Sat. 9am--noon

Salvation Army, 310 N. 4th Ave, Pasco, WA , 547-2138, Tues & Thurs 9am--11am

Adventist Community Service, 605 Road 36, Pasco, WA , 547-4998, Tuesday 9am--noon

Golden Age Food Share, 504 S. Oregon St, Pasco, WA , 547-8310, Monday--Thursday 8am--noon

St. Vincent DePaul Food Bank, 115 W. Lewis St, Pasco, WA , 544-9315, Wednesday 11am--4pm

Union Gospel Mission, 112 N. 2nd Ave, Pasco, WA, 845-1800, Everyday 8am--5 pm

Pasco Christian Church, 1524 W. Marie St, Pasco, WA, 531-8830, Monday--Friday 3pm-4pm

Tri-Cities Food Bank, 420 W. Deschutes Ave, Kennewick, WA , 586-0688, Monday--Friday 8am--noon

Harvest Outreach, 120 W. Railroad Ave, Kennewick, WA , 582-9064, Monday--Thursday 11am--3 pm

Tri Cities Food Bank, 321 Wellesian Way, Richland, WA, 943-2795, Monday--Friday 7:30am--11:30am

Salvation Army, 1219 Thayer Drive, Richland, WA, 943-7977, Tuesday & Thursday 9am-11am

Jericho Food Ministries, 2500 Jericho Road, Richland, WA , 627-0750, Tuesday-- to Friday10am to 4pm

Jubilee Ministries Food Bank, 1429 Stacy St, Prosser, WA , 786-3033 or 781-0976, Tues, Wed, Thur & Sat 9am--noon

Tri-Cities Food Bank, 712 10th St, Benton City, WA , 588-5454, Wednesdays 9:30am--11:30am, Thursdays Noon to 2:30pm and 6-8pm

Connell Food Bank, 124 N. Columbia, Connell, WA , 234-0243, 2nd and 4th Weds of Month 9am--11am

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