Chatelaine Kitchen

A cook's garden: A guide to harvesting vegetables

From tomatoes on the vine to deep-rooted carrots, our guide to help you pick your produce at its peek and some delicious ways to enjoy them

Oh, the humbling experience of being a rookie gardener. I was chatting with a veteran gardener the other day about my lessons from the garden thus far. I mentioned that next spring, I plan to plant new potatoes, because my kids enjoy them so much. With a sly look on her face, she kindly explained that new potatoes are simply “baby” potatoes – meaning potatoes that are harvested in their young state. Adequately embarrassed, I shrugged it off and got to thinking. How do I know when my vegetables are ready for harvest? Beans and lettuce are easy as they appear right before your eyes – but what about my carrots, potatoes and beets?

A guide to harvesting your vegetables:

Potatoes
The bulk of potatoes are ready to harvest 120-140 days after they’re planted. Once the foliage has flowered and the plants begin to look less vibrant, this is a good sign that the time has come. About two weeks before you plan to harvest, cut the foliage back to soil level and let the potatoes sit in the dirt for 10-14 days – then you are ready to harvest. A “new” potato (as I learned) is a potato that is picked fresh in its early state, and not stored. The youngest potatoes are harvested 60 – 90 days after planting and the second earls are harvested between 90-120 days. Since new potatoes are not stored you don’t need to cut off the foliage prior to harvesting.
Try it: New potatoes are great in this light and fresh summer salad: Potato salad with parsley vinaigrette

Beets
Beets do double-duty in your garden as the greens are almost as tempting as the bulb. Beets are notoriously fast growers. Signs that your beets are ready for harvest are: protruding shoulder, a dark colour appearing through the soil and a smooth surface. Larger beets tend to become more fibrous, so most people prefer to harvest beets when they are relatively small. To harvest, you can either water the ground a few days prior and simply pull the beets out – or dig them up. Let them sit in a dry shady place until you’re ready to use them and wash beets right before eating. Beet greens wilt quickly so should be separated from the bulb and eaten shortly after they are harvested.
Try it: Use both the bulb and the greens in our beets and greens salad

Carrots
Determining when to harvest carrots can be a bit tricky. Usually, a decent size diameter of shoulder peeking through the soil indicates a good length of carrot, and that they are ready to pick. However to be sure, simply pull one from the ground for a taste test. Carrots can be left in the soil once matured, so you only need to pick what you need.
Try it: Use fresh garden carrots in this quick carrot cilantro salad.

Tomatoes
Although tomatoes reveal themselves beautifully when they are ready to be picked, there are still a few things to keep in mind. Tomatoes should be firm and brightly coloured, but not rock hard when they are harvested. Do not allow the fruit to over-ripen on the vine or else it may attract birds and other garden pests. Finally, don’t forget the early summer treat that your tomato plants will give you…green tomatoes! They are only available for a short period of time, so if you have any desire to fry or pickle green tomatoes, pick them when the are firm and green.
Try it: They are ideal in our cornmeal crusted tomato and pesto steak stack.

Beans
Pick beans when they are matured. Don’t allow fresh beans to remain on the vine too long, once you see bulging seeds it means that the beans will be tough and waxy in texture.

Originally published July 21st, 2012.