Vegetable harvest

How To Gauge When To Harvest Your Vegetables

It's that time of year to enjoy the fruits of your hard work

Aubergines are better cut off the plant rather than pulled as the stems are rather tough and you run the risk of damaging the stem. Slice the aubergine lengthways, drizzle with olive oil and bake in the oven for 25 minutes until tender. Place sliced tomato and mozzarella cheese on top, bake for a further 5 minutes until the cheese has melted. Serve with couscous or quinoa for a quick easy vegetarian meal.

Beans, runner, need picking when they are young before the beans inside start to grow. Once they have produced the ripe beans they stop producing any more. When they get too old they become tough and stringy; even my goats won’t eat them! Leave some beans to ripen at the end of the season to produce the seed for next year. Gently soften a chopped red chilli and a chopped garlic clove in a little olive oil over a low heat, add some anchovies and heat through. Add to cooked beans for something a little different.

Beetroot are best harvested when young, no more than 5cm (2”) across, otherwise if they become too large they tend to be woody. They are delicious roasted with onions and a little garlic in olive oil.

Beetroot

Broad beans need harvesting before they become too large as they can become quite bitter; if they do become too large just take off the outer skin when they are cooked. Simple broad beans boiled and served with a knob of butter and ground black pepper with bacon and fresh crusty bread makes a simple, delicious supper dish.

Broccoli needs harvesting when the head is still nice and tight. It will then produce side-shoots throughout the rest of the season, which can be eaten as tender-stem shoots. Broccoli and Stilton soup is delicious and really easy to make. Gently fry a sliced onion and a diced stick of celery in butter. Add broccoli florets and cover with vegetable stock. Simmer until the florets are tender; blitz with a blender until smooth then add crumbled Stilton cheese, 2 teaspoons of French mustard, salt and ground black pepper to taste. Garnish with a little crumbled cheese and pieces of crispy streaky bacon.

Brussels sprouts are usually harvested after the first frost as the frost converts complex carbohydrates into sugars; however modern varieties have been bred to produce a sweeter crop without the need to wait for the frost. Instead of the usual boiled sprouts try roasting them in olive oil then mixing them with small pieces of fried spicy chorizo.

Cabbages can be harvested once the head is firm when squeezed. Cut cabbage into thin threads, place in a pan with a tight fitting lid and add a good knob of butter and a couple of tablespoons of boiling water. Place over a high heat and cook for 4 – 5 minutes shaking the pan continually making sure all the cabbage is coated with the butter/water emulsion; season with ground black pepper and salt.

Carrots are better harvested when they are small as they are sweeter and  more tender. Place small carrots in a pan with a touch of mixed spice, a knob of butter and boiling water, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Leave to soak in the water overnight then bring back to the boil, cook until tender.

Cauliflower needs picking when the curds are tight and white. Don't leave it too late to harvest as you run the risk of them bolting, after which they are no good, except for the hens to peck. As an alternative to the usual boiled cauliflower try gently frying the florets in butter until tender and browned; just before they are cooked add some sesame seeds. 

Cauliflower

Courgettes keep better if you cut them with a little of the stalk attached. Try cutting them into slices, place on some kitchen roll and sprinkle with salt to draw out some of the water. Fry gently in olive oil, then pour in chopped tinned tomatoes, add a handful of fresh mixed Mediterranean herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary), salt and ground black pepper.

Courgette (Zucchini)

Cucumber is better harvested when young before the skin becomes tough. Try grilled cucumber, mint and lemon salad as an alternative to eating it just plain. Slice the cucumbers lengthways, brush with olive oil and grill over a moderate heat on the BBQ until browned. Slice into batons and add a handful of chopped fresh mint leaves, olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt and ground black pepper.

Garlic is ready to be harvested when the tops have started to dry.

Greens need harvesting in the cool of the day otherwise they wilt quickly.

Onions are not ready to be harvested until after the tops have fallen over and gone brown. Pull up and store somewhere cool and dry until the outer scales have dried. A quick way to enjoy pickled onion is to bring vinegar, a teaspoon of mustard seed, a tablespoon of honey, a pinch of dried chilli flakes and a pinch of salt to the boil, add sliced onions and simmer for 1 minute.

Harvested onions

Peas need picking when they are small and sweet otherwise they become hard and bitter. Try this pesto served on toasted slices of sour dough bread topped with small cubes of fried chorizo. Place peas, a handful of mint leaves, a crushed garlic clove, Parmesan cheese and ground black pepper in a food processor, blitz and drizzle in just enough olive oil until it is smooth.

Potatoes are ready to be lifted when the tops start to die back. Make an easy potato and dill salad by boiling small chunks of potato until tender. Mix together equal amounts of olive oil and cider vinegar and add a teaspoon of French mustard, combine and add just enough to the potatoes to coat. Add finely sliced spring onions and chopped dill and season with sea salt and ground black pepper.

Red potatoes

Pumpkins need to ripen on the plant until the plant starts to die back and the skin of the pumpkin is hard. Try making James Martin’s Thai Pumpkin Soup:
Ingredients

  • 1.5kg pumpkin, peeled and diced
  • 4tbsp. sunflower oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 lemongrass, bruised
  • 3 – 4tbsp. Thai red curry paste
  • 400ml. coconut milk
  • 850ml. vegetable stock
  • Lime juice and sugar for seasoning

Roast the pumpkin for 30 minutes in half the oil and the seasoning until tender.

Gently cook the onion, ginger and lemongrass in the remaining oil for 8 – 10 minutes until tender. Stir in the curry paste and cook for 1 minute, add the roasted pumpkin, stock and the coconut milk (reserving 3tbsp. for garnish).

Simmer for 5 minutes, take out the lemongrass. When cool blitz with a blender until smooth. Return to the pan to heat through, season with salt, pepper, lime juice and sugar.

Serve with the drizzled coconut milk and finely sliced chillies.

Pumpkins

Spinach is best picked as small baby leaves and cooked quickly in a butter/ water emulsion. You need quite a large quantity of leaves as they disappear to very little when they are cooked.

Spinach

Sweetcorn needs a long growing season with plenty of sunshine to ripen. They are ready when the tassels at the top of the cob have gone brown and the kernels emit a milky juice when you burst one with your fingernail. You don't need a recipe for these just salt and lashings of butter and you will have a delicious supper; they taste far better than supermarket cobs.

Sweetcorn

Sweet peppers need to ripen and change colour to red, orange or yellow on the plant as they are sweeter than if you eat them green. Try them roasted in olive oil with aubergine, courgettes, red onions, chilli, garlic, mixed Mediterranean herbs, ground black pepper and a pinch of salt. Add tinned chopped tomatoes and you have a lovely vegetable base that can be eaten just as it is with some fresh crusty bread or made into a vegetable lasagne or a crumble.

Tomatoes need to be picked when they have just lost the last of the green colouring. Leave them any longer and they soon become soft and pulpy. An easy tomato salad it to place sliced tomatoes in a bowl, pour over equal measures of olive oil and white wine vinegar. Add chopped spring onions, a handful of chopped basil leaves, sea salt and ground black pepper. For a more complete meal add torn pieces of mozzarella cheese. Leave to infuse for at least 30 minutes at room temperature, turning frequently. This is delicious served with fresh crusty white bread or as an accompaniment to a pasta dish.

If you need more information on growing vegetables browse through our blog articles or watch the videos on our youtube channel.

Angela Slater
Daughter of a farmer and market gardener so have always had a connection with the outdoors, whether it was keeping animals or producing fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. Along with my work at Hayes Garden World I also have a smallholding, mainly breeding rare breed pigs. I gained an HND and BSc in Conservation and Environmental Land Management, as a result I am an ardent environmentalist and have a keen interest in environmentally friendly gardening. In my time at Hayes I worked for several years in the Outdoor Plant and Houseplant areas