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Southern Inspirations Garden Design

A family-run business since 1997

Southern Inspirations
Tips on Harvesting an Organic Vegetable Garden
Harvesting an organic vegetable garden can cause damage to your vegetable crop. Even when taking precautions some damage to plants will occur. Damage to some plants lead to fungal and other infections that could ruin the rest of the crop. Maintaining the organic nature of your garden will prevent you from using chemicals to stop the damage.

These tips will make harvesting easier and minimize the impact on the garden:
  • Watering the garden well in advance will make it easy to pull out carrots and beets without having to dig them up. This minimizes damage to surrounding plants.
  • Do not harvest while the plants' leaves are wet, it is easier for infections to be transmitted.
  • Do not use gloves which you used to clean out your diseased plants from the previous season. You will infect your healthy plants.
  • Use a sharp knife and scissors to cut of leafy crops. Sterilize both before using.
The harvest time for your organic vegetables varies depending upon the plant. It is important that you harvest your vegetables as soon as they are ready instead of letting them become over ripe. Many vegetables will rapidly deteriorate if left un-harvested after ripening, losing both flavor and nutritional value. Harvesting an organic vegetable garden must be done at the right times.

The following are a list of typical harvest times for vegetables. Make sure you check your garden constantly around harvest time since some vegetables will ripen virtually overnight. Even after you have brought in a large crop keep checking your garden because some vegetables simply produce more vegetables after the first crop is removed.


Harvest beets when they are between 1 ¼ and 2 inches (30 and 50 mm) in diameter and leaves are 4 to 6 inches (100 to 150 mm) long. Simply grab by the leaves and pull out. Remember the beet tops can be eaten too!

Snap Beans

Harvest snap beans when the pods are firm and snap easily and the seeds are still undeveloped.


Harvest carrots when they are between a ½ and 1 inch (12 to 25 mm) in diameter. Younger carrots are tenderer but older carrots are often sweeter so you can leave them until the first frost. If you like younger carrots harvest them as soon as they are large enough and plant more for a fresh crop. Simply grab by the leaves and pull out.


Harvest corn when the silk begins to turn dark and shrivels. This is usually about 20 days after the first silk strands appear but sometimes sooner so keep your eyes peeled. You may also inspect the kernels by making a small vertical slit in the covering leaves and gently prizing the slit open. After inspection wrap a corn leaf around the inspection hole to cover up if not ready to harvest. Harvest corn by pulling down the cob, it will snap off at the stem.


Harvest cucumbers when they are between 2 and 8 inches (50 and 200 mm) long depending on your personal preferences. They are best for eating when they are dark green, firm, and crisp. Harvest by snipping the stem of with scissors. Once the cucumbers are removed more will develop in their place so keep an eye on them.


Harvest eggplant when they are between 6 to 8 inches long (150 to 200 mm) and glossy with a deep color. Use either pruning shears or a knife to cut the fruit from the plant.


Harvest garlic when the tops of the bulbs begin turning yellow and dry out. Garlic has to be dug out as the leaves are not strong enough to pull the plant out. The bulbs must be put on screens to dry and once they have dried trim the roots close to the bulbs and remove the loose outer sheaths before storing.

Spring Onions

Harvest spring onions and leeks in the fall by loosening the soil, pulling up the roots, and cutting off the roots.


Harvest lettuce 50 to 60 days after planting. They can often be harvested before when they are small but they will reach their maximum size in 60 days. Cut the head off with a sharp knife. Attempting to pull it out first will damage the lettuce.


Harvest okra pods when they are immature and tender. Do not let the pods become more than 3 inches long. After you pick the pods more will grow and must be harvested every day.


Harvest onions after the tops have fallen down. After digging them up, let the onions air dry for two days before storing.


Harvest peas when the pod is green and full but still tender. Pods are usually ready to be harvested a week after the plant flowers.


Harvest peppers when they are mature they can be picked at any size or allowed to ripen more to produce a stronger taste. Simply cut off with a knife.


Harvest large potatoes once the vine has died using a spading fork. The potatoes are usually four to six inches below the soil and must be handled gently to avoid bruising and spoiling. Inset the fork at least 1 foot (300mm) away from the plant for the first dig, else you are almost certain to push a prong through a potato.


Harvest pumpkins only after they have fully ripened on vines and pick them before the first heavy freeze. The rind should be hard and have a solid color. Cut off with a sharp knife.


Harvest radishes from the time that they are the size of large marbles and do not let them get larger than 1 inch (25mm) in diameter. Simply grab by the leaves and pull out.


Spinach can be harvested over a long period of time. Simply cut off the outer leaves with a scissors when large enough. Leave the inner leaves as they will grow larger in no time.


Harvest squash when the plant is between 6 and 8 inches (150 and 200 mm) in diameter. They are usually ready to pick 4 to 8 weeks after the plant flowers. Cut off with a sharp knife.


Harvest tomatoes when they have changed color. If picked when just starting to turn yellow, tomatoes can have a long shelf life and will ripen very slowly. Leave the tomatoes on the vine longer to ripen faster. Harvest by taking hold of the fruit and then snipping it off with a scissors.


Harvest turnips when the roots are between 2 and 3 inches (50 and 150 mm) in diameter and the tops are between 4 to 6 inches (100 to 150mm) long. The tops can be eaten too.

Instructions on harvesting an organic vegetable garden might seem silly but if you do not harvest your vegetables during the correct time frame you will not benefit from their freshness and nutritional value. Pay careful attention to when you plant your vegetables and check them often close to harvest time.

Vegetables like peppers and spinach are lenient when it comes to harvesting them on time, they are thus suitable if you have a busy schedule or find it difficult to keep track of harvesting requirements. If you are in a cold area where frosts occurs often, consider growing vegetables like turnips that can remain in the ground safely even after a hard frost. They may be dug up well into winter.

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