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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

News Center

How to Pick Vegetables at the Peak of Freshness

LAS CRUCES - A grocery sack of giant zucchini on your front porch is a sign the neighbors let their garden get away from them again this summer.

"One of the biggest problems is that people harvest vegetables too big or over mature," said George Dickerson, a horticulturist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. "One of the classic examples is the giant zucchini."

To help gardeners avoid the specter of more zucchini bread, Dickerson shared some harvesting hints.

For example, he recommended harvesting zucchini and yellow summer squash when it's six to eight inches long andtender. Eggplants should be picked when the skins are still shiny and tender, before seeds get large.

If okra gets too big it gets very tough. Pods two to three inches long are about right, Dickerson said. Green beans need to be filled out, but not to the point that the pod starts to split.

Potatoes with green vines are still growing. Wait until the vines turn yellow and die before harvesting potatoes, Dickerson said.

Onion bulbs should be at least two inches in diameter before digging. "At least half the tops of bulbing onions should have fallen over before they're ready to lift with a garden fork," Dickerson said.

The easiest way to tell if sweet corn is ready it to look for brown silk on top of the ear. When squeezed with a thumbnail, kernels should have a milky juice in regular sweet-corn or a relatively clear juice in an extra sweet variety.

With other crops, like watermelons, it's not as easy to detect ripeness. Although some people like to thump their melons, don't worry if you don't have the knack, Dickerson said.

"One of the easiest ways, I think, to harvest a watermelon is where it touches the ground, you're going to have what they call a ground spot on the bottom of that melon. If it's yellow it should be ripe," he said.

To double check, look for a corkscrew-like tendril on the vine where it attaches to the watermelon. If it's dried up and brown the melon is usually ready to harvest. If it's green, leave it on the vine a little longer, Dickerson said.

Cantaloupes should be harvested when their background color is orange, they smell ripe and the fruit easily slips from the stem, Dickerson said. On ripe honeydew melons, the blossom end should give slightly when pressed with the thumb.

"Knowing when to harvest is important in terms of taste as well as nutrition," he said.