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harvest fresh tomatoes

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.—Alabama gardeners can harvest fresh vegetables almost every month of the year. But knowing when to harvest is the key to enjoying peak freshness from the garden. Dani Carroll, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System regional home grounds agent, said gardeners need to monitor their crops daily.

“Harvest vegetables when they are fully ripe for peak freshness,” Carroll said. “Once they are fully ripe, many are perishable or need to be eaten quickly or preserved for later use.”

In Season Vegetables

Tomatoes, peppers, squash and beans are reaching peak season for harvesting in south Alabama. These vegetables, as well as cucumbers, are in season in central Alabama. As soil temperatures continue to rise, harvest of these vegetables will begin in north Alabama. Carroll said gardens in central and north Alabama are usually two to three weeks behind those in south Alabama.

While spring planting time is behind for most vegetables, sweet potatoes and okra can still be planted. Carroll said gardeners may want to consider a second round of planting to extend the vegetable bounty until fall. Find a planting guide here.

Harvest Fresh

Each vegetable shows different signs of when it is at its peak and ready to harvest.

Pick summer squash when it bruises easily with a fingernail, but has not yet become a hard fruit.

“Tomatoes will often continue to ripen after they have been picked, therefore harvest at about 85 percent of their ripened color especially if you have problems with birds or need to harvest before leaving town,” Carroll said.

Okra pods indicate levels of peak freshness when the pods are 2 to 3 inches long. Harvest every two to three days at minimum to ensure the okra does not become woody.

“Early morning after the dew has started to dry is a great time to harvest veggies and herbs,” Carroll said.

Storing Vegetables

After harvesting at peak freshness, store vegetables properly to preserve the same level of freshness.

“For fruit like tomatoes, store and allow to ripen at room temperature with no refrigeration,” Carroll said. “Store summer squash, which is really an immature fruit, in the refrigerator immediately.”

Learn more about harvesting at peak freshness. If the garden is producing abundantly, learn more about how to preserve vegetables for later use.

More Information

Find more gardening resources at the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu.

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