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How to Harvest Your Late Summer Garden

Not sure what garden veggies are ready to pick and what needs more time on the vine? Learning the “ripe” time to pick your garden vegetables takes a little practice. Even the best gardeners need a couple of attempts to get veggies at their peak flavor. It’s a fine line between bland, not-quite-ready produce and icky, overripe mush.

New gardeners learn best by doing. Pick vegetables from your garden using all your senses: sight, smell, sound, and, of course, taste. Here are some gardening basics that’ll ensure you get the tastiest results from your summer garden.


Pruning Shears Harvesting Tomatoes

Harvest time for tomatoes is usually in the late summer. For that sweet, sunshine flavor in any tomato variety, you’ll want to pick them when they’re a rich red—no green on the skin. Tomatoes need lots of warm days and nights for the best-tasting results.

If the summer months have been full of extremes (too wet, then too dry), their skins can start to crack. Luckily, tomatoes are one of the few fruits that can ripen off the vine. So if the weather hasn’t been cooperating in your area, watch the bottoms of your tomatoes and look for the first blush of red color, especially in heirloom varieties. Pick them, and wrap them in newspaper to speed up the ripening process.

Have an overabundance of tomatoes? Get tips to use and store them on our “What to Do with Your Summer Bounty” blog post.

Bell Peppers

These mild, sweet peppers can be harvested when they’re still green. If left on the vine, they’ll turn red, then orange, and finally yellow.

Green bell peppers won’t taste as sweet as a fully ripened yellow pepper, but are still crisp and tasty. Use pruning shears to cut peppers from the plants, leaving a short stem attached.

TIP: Leave the first peppers to ripen fully and harvest subsequent ones. This puts the plant’s energy toward the peppers you leave on the vine.

How do you pick bell peppers


Grocery store eggplants are often humongous, but taste bland. When you pick eggplants from your garden, look at their size and shine. Typically, the eggplant should be a little bigger than your hand and have a reflective shine. Once the eggplant is dark and dull, it’s overripe.

You’ll want sharp shears to cut the tough stem of the plant. Don’t pull or twist the eggplant off the vine because that could break the plant.

TIP: Add eggplant to this great recipe, Veggie Noodles With Fresh Tomato-Basil Sauce.

when to harvest eggplant


Basil needs to be harvested often—as soon as it has three to five sets of leaves. Cut sets of leaves every couple weeks just above the first or second set of leaves on your newest branches. This will help you grow a healthy, bushy plant.

TIP: Find tips for freezing, storing, and cooking with basil in our “What to Do with Your Summer Bounty” post.

How to Harvest Basil


Pick cucumbers early and often to keep the vine producing more of them long into the season. At peak harvest time, you should be picking cucumbers every couple of days.

It’s better to pick many smaller cucumbers (two to eight inches long) than wait for a few big ones. If those cucumbers are left on the vine too long, they’ll start turning yellow and will taste bitter.

Cucumbers are ready to pick when they’re a rich green and feel firm. Some varieties have a white or slightly yellow hue, so read you seed packet or plant tag carefully to know what to look for.

how to grow cucumbers

Summer Squash/Zucchini

Just like cucumbers, the more you pick yellow summer squash or zucchini from the vine, the more you’ll get from the plant.

These veggies grow fast. Once you see little squashes or zucchini appear, watch them daily until they’re about four to eight inches long. Follow the same basic rules as cucumbers and eggplants—bigger doesn’t mean better. Even a summer squash at four inches long is ready to eat.

You can twist the squash off the vine, but if you want to ensure you don’t damage the plant, use pruning shears to clip about a half inch from the top of the squash.

TIP: Make the garden harvest a family activity. Check out our “Getting Kids Gardening” blog post for some ideas!

when to harvest summer squash
Turn summer squash, zucchini, and more into “noodles” with the Veggie Strip Maker

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