Garden Guide

Harvesting fruits and vegetables
Jul. 17, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

Many Lee County residents grow their own fruits and vegetables. With a summer supply of fresh produce constantly maturing, it is important to know the appropriate time to harvest so that optimum production and quality is achieved. Many plant problems may be avoided simply by harvesting the fruit, as it is ready. For example, certain crops like summer squash will produce more fruit if harvested every couple of days. If fruit is left on the vine and gets too large, the plants will stop producing. Fruit should be harvested when it is 6-8 inches long. 

Other crops like watermelon are a little more challenging to know when they are ripe. Ripe watermelons produce a dull thud rather than a sharp, metallic sound when thumped. However if you don’t have experience with this technique it can be rather difficult to tell. Other ripeness indicators are a deep yellow ¾ rather than white ¾ color where the melon touches the ground, brown tendrils on the stem near the fruit, and a rough, slightly ridged feel to the skin surface.

Corn is ready when the silks turn brown. You can check a few ears for maturity by opening the top of the ear and pressing a few kernels with your thumbnail. If the liquid exuded is milky rather than clear, the ear is ready for harvest. Harvest ranges from 18 to 21 days after the silk appears. 

As for tomatoes, they can be harvested when they are ¾ to fully ripe. Although flavor is best at room temperature, ripe fruit may be held in the refrigerator at 45°F to 50°F for 7 to 10 days.

Cucumbers should be harvested when the fruits are deep green, before any yellow color appears. The length should be 2 to 3 inches for sweet pickles, 5 to 6 inches for dill pickles, and 6 to 8 inches for slicing. Pick 4 to 5 times per week to encourage continuous production. Like squash, mature cucumbers left on the vine will stop production of the entire plant. 

Any vegetable that is allowed to become overly mature will be stringy and coarse. When possible, harvest vegetables during the cool part of the morning, and process or store them as soon as possible. If for some reason processing must be delayed, cool the vegetables in ice water or crushed ice, and store them in the refrigerator to preserve flavor and quality.

If you have fruits and vegetables and are unsure the optimal time to harvest, please contact North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County for more information by calling (919) 775-5624. 

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