Harvest frequently to keep vegetables producing

Bob Dluzen
The Detroit News

With summer vacation season still going on and thoughts of back to school in the minds of families, garden work, in many cases, can get pushed down the list of priorities.

By not visiting and harvesting crops from your garden for several days, you can end up reducing the total amount of produce from your garden. 

Right now, we are in the early part of the main harvest season for most vegetables. 

It's easy to think that after all, if we raised it from a seed, nurtured it, fed it, provided water and weeded it, we would be rewarded with an abundance of fruit. And that is true if we harvest at the proper time.

We need to keep in mind that our garden plants’ main purpose is to reproduce so that the species lives on year after year.

With some crops, leaving the fruit on the vine too long allows seeds to begin to mature. The maturing process in turn releases plant hormones that tell a plant it's OK to stop churning out more fruit because enough seeds are being produced with the existing fruit on the vine. 

Yellowing cucumbers signals the vine to stop producing additional fruit.

Frequent picking prevents the formation of those plant hormones. With no maturing seeds, the plant simply keeps on producing more fruit until it is finally exhausted. 

The reproductive process of growing fruit and seeds consumes most of the energy used by plants, by far, in its lifetime. 

Beans, peas, cucumbers and summer squash are examples of plants that if left to mature, will shut down the plant. 

The peas in this pod are completely mature. The pea vine has long ago stopped producing flowers or pea pods.

This time of year crops are growing so fast that it can be a matter of just a few days from flower to fruit being ready to pick. 

Another problem occurs when the crops are left too long. They will become fibrous, tough and lose flavor. Beets, radishes, sweet corn, kohlrabi and okra are few examples of this. 

Tomatoes and peppers as well as vine crops such as cantaloupe, watermelon will lose quality if left to languish on the plant. 

It is a bit subjective as to when some crops are ready to pick. For example, some people like their tomatoes a little on the green side while others at the other end of the spectrum like theirs fully ripe.

Melons can easily go from nearly ripe to overripe in a few days, inviting fruit beetles, fruit flies and earwigs to eat their way in. Mammals such as raccoons are also attracted to over-ripe fruit.

Cruciferous vegetables have their share of problems, too. Cabbage heads can split if left too long before harvesting. Cauliflower quickly loses taste and texture. 

A broccoli head is nothing more than a cluster of tightly packed flower buds. If any of these flower buds begin to open, it can slow down the production of side shoots, greatly reducing your total crop yield. 

Other crops, such as  zucchini and eggplant, are much tastier if picked sooner rather than allowing them to become full-sized. Zucchini is tender and buttery if picked at the 6- or 8-inch size. Those who prefer huge zucchini for zucchini boats may argue about that.

Make extra room in your busy summer schedule to keep your garden picked on a daily basis. Invite a friend or family member to help with the harvest. Most people would love to come out and pick some fresh vegetables to take home. That will help ensure there will be more vegetables available for everyone later on in the season.

You’ll reap the benefits later from the attention you give your garden now.