Part of ensuring the ultimate success of your vegetable garden is knowing when and how to pick the produce. Most fruits and vegetables fall into one of the three categories. Whole plant vegetables include lettuces, broccoli and other vegetables where the whole plant is harvested. Fruiting plants and vines make up the bulk of the garden and include berries and fruits, tomatoes, peas and other plants where just the fruit is harvested and the plant continues to produce throughout the season. Root crops include potatoes, onions and carrots.
Harvest head plants such as cabbage, head lettuce and broccoli once the plant reaches the desired size, is firm to the touch and is the desired color. Harvest leafy plants, such as spinach and chard, when leaves reach the desired size.
Cut the head off at the soil level. Leave any side shoots, such as is the case with broccoli, in place to finish maturing. Cut off leaves from leafy plants from the outside of the plant, leaving the interior leaves in place to continue production. Pick the leaves by cutting them off where they join the main plant.
Cut off the side shoots once they reach the desired size and color. Harvest the entire leafy plant when it begins growing a flower stalk in the middle.
Fruit Plants and Vines
Pick vegetables and fruits once they reach the peak of color and when the fruits are firm to the touch. Pick pod vegetables when the pods are firm and swollen with peas or beans inside.
Twist or pluck the plant from the stem. Avoid tugging on the stem as this may damage the plant. Use a knife or shears if the fruit doesn't easily twist off or wait for it to ripen further.
Check the plants daily for ripened vegetables and fruit. Harvest continually as fruits ripen to encourage further production on the plant.
Harvest potatoes and onions when the leaves yellow and begin to die or fall over. Harvest carrots, radish and turnips when the roots have reached the desired size. Check seed packet for recommended harvest times and dig up a root to check size near that date.
Loosen the soil around the root crop with your hands or a spading fork. Take care not to spear the root crops when loosening the soil.
Pull the plants up by the stem once soil is loosened. For potatoes, turn the soil with the fork or your hands and lift the potatoes out of the ground one by one.