After the work, comes the reward. Abundant harvest is the culmination of a vegetable garden well-cared-for. There are important considerations when it comes to harvesting and storing vegetables.
The first decision is when to harvest. Each crop has its own rate of growth and proper stage of maturity. Some are ready to pick within a few weeks of planting, such as radishes or leaf lettuce. Others, such as melons or pumpkins, need the entire summer to mature. It important to acquaint yourself with the vegetables you grow and know about when they will be ready for harvest. Then know what to look for in deciding if the produce is at its optimum stage of growth.
Some vegetables have a long harvest window, while others lose quality very quickly (one day good, the next day not). Generally, the root and tuber crops (e.g. potatoes, carrots, beets) can be successfully harvested over a long span of time. Leaf and flower crops (e.g. head lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower) have a harvest window of one or two days, while fruit crops (e.g. tomatoes, melons) are somewhere in-between. Again, it is important to know your vegetables and be prepared to harvest in a timely manner.
To learn more about harvesting and storing vegetables, see the following resources:
The root and tuber vegetables can be stored in a fresh state for long periods, up to several months under the right conditions (around 40˚F with high humidity). Most other vegetables deteriorate fairly quickly and must be either consumed or processed (frozen or canned) within a short period of time. After harvest, the leaf and flower vegetables must be processed within a few hours. The fruit vegetables may stay in good shape for several days.
To acquire details on canning vegetables, see The National Center for Home Preservation web site USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, 2009.
Vegetable gardening is a very rewarding activity. In addition to fresh vegetables on the table, it creates feelings of independence and satisfaction, makes a person more self-sufficient, saves money, and is and environmentally sound practice.