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Asparagus should be harvested when the spears are approximately six inches tall.There is a debate whether the spears should be cut just below or just above the soil line. There are pros and cons for each method.The thin spears are the males and are more numerous.The females are the thicker stems and are less numerous. Harvesting should be tapered off by early to mid July.

Green Beans

Green beans and wax beans should be picked when the pods are about as thick as a pencil and just starting to show the bulging of individual beans. Pods that are showing pronounced bulging of individual beans are too old for most fresh eating. However dried beans are treated differently.


Broccoli is harvested before the individual flower buds loosen. Once the flowers begin to bloom the head should be removed to help encourage side shoots to develop. Note that the side shoots will not make large heads.


Corn is picked in the "milk stage." This usually occurs twenty days after the first silk strands appear. If the juice in a punctured kernel is clear the corn is not ripe enough. If there is very thick to too little juice the corn is "over the hill." Other factors that are used include the silks being brown down to the husk, firmness of the unhusked ears and plumpness of the kernels on the tip of the ear.


Cucumbers are picked at any time before seeds become hard. By the time the cucumber begins to ripen (starts to turn a golden color) it is too late to harvest. Small young cucumbers are better for pickling. Cucumbers that are six to eight inches are best for slicing. However, personal taste should be the main rule. The quality is best when the cucumbers are a uniform green, firm and crisp.


Melons vary in how to determine their harvest time. Cantaloupes should be twisted gently on the vine. If the melon is ripe, the melon should separate from its stem by the time the melon has twisted 180 degrees to the stem. In addition, the rind is tan or yellowish between the netting on lines on the outside rind.


Watermelons are picked when the tendril turns brown to its base. The tendril is the one on the vine next to the melon’s stem. In addition, the skin becomes dull looking and tough to puncture with your fingernail. The melon bottom (the part in contact with the soil) turns from a light green to yellowish color.


Green onions are picked when their tops are about six inches tall. Green onions become stronger the larger they become and the longer they stay in the ground.

Bulb onions are pulled when most of the tops have fallen over naturally. To help speed up harvesting, onion tops can be knocked over when the first ones begin to bend over naturally. Knocking the tops of the onions over too soon will result in smaller bulbs. Allow drying in a shaded dry cool area before storing.

However, white skin onions do not store well. They need to be dehydrated or used within a few weeks. The brown and purple skin onions can be stored for months under the proper conditions, provided they were harvested correctly.


Fully ripe peppers are red, yellow, green (bell or Jalapeno) or black. When harvested in this condition the peppers do not store well unless dehydrated. Peppers that are picked in the green stage store longer. For most peppers, the taste remains the same.


Tomatoes should be harvested while they are still firm and fully colored. Ideally, this occurs when temperatures are in the mid–seventies. At higher temperatures, the sugars become starchy and the sweetness declines. In addition the softening process accelerates. Therefore on hot days, tomatoes should be harvested when they are pinkish and then finish the ripening indoors in the mid-seventy-degree range. If however, the temperature is as warm inside as it is outside, leave the tomatoes on the vine to ripen. Do not place the tomatoes on a sunny windowsill. This defeats the purpose of bringing them indoors to ripen at a cooler temperature.


By James E Schuster, Extension Educator - Horticulture, University of Illinois