Reap what you sow: Follow these tips for harvesting from the garden
It is common for gardeners to wait for their large tomatoes to turn red on the vine, but this may not be such a good idea during the hottest months of summer. Birds or animals may have been waiting for vine-ripened fruit, as well.
Also, “heat delay” will slow down harvesting. When temperatures are above 90 F, the red pigment in larger tomatoes will develop poorly (cherry tomatoes don’t have this problem). Orange or yellow-tinted fruit will often result from high temperatures.
It’s better this time of the year if you don’t try to wait until the fruit is fully red to harvest. Once tomatoes have turned from green to light pink, they derive no more food supplies from the plant. They can be harvested in this transition stage without a loss of flavor or quality if handled correctly.
After harvesting in this early stage of ripening, preferably in the cooler temperatures of morning, place your tomatoes out of direct sunlight and at temperatures about 70 F so they will develop a deep red color and full flavor. Some gardeners place them in paper bags, but a countertop is fine.
Another benefit is when you remove the pink-tinted tomatoes
from the plants it will help the green fruits on the plant begin to ripen, so you will help the plant speed up ripening of your other fruits.
Peppers can be harvested at any stage, but usually you would like them to be full size or the color you want. You can allow them to stay on the plant until they begin to turn red as the flesh flavor will sweeten, but this happens slower under hot conditions, so fall is usually better for letting peppers turn red.
Summer squash can be harvested as soon as you have firm fruit, including small “baby” squash. Once the fruit gets too big the rind will get hard, and it happens quickly so keep an eye on them!
Winter squashes are harvested once the rind turns hard, indicating the sugars have developed within.
Harvest okra while the pods are tender and easily cut from the stalk. Many gardeners harvest very small 2- 3-inch pods, but you could allow them to get a little bigger before they get tough. You may have to harvest daily in late summer, and you must continue harvesting or they will form seed pods and quit producing.
In the garden, besides thumping, check a watermelon for ripeness by looking for the tendril, a small curly stem on the watermelon vine directly opposite the point where the melon is attached to the vine. When the melon ripens, this tendril dries and turns brown or gray and hard and will often pop off. Another method of determining ripeness is to watch the underside of the melon until it develops a cream or yellowish color.
Cantaloupes will soften at the end away from the stem as they ripen, so you can press gently with your thumb to choose the ripest melon. There is also a sweet fragrance that is obvious when smelling the rind of a ripe melon.
“Slipping” is a term for when the stems of many of these smaller melons naturally start separating from the melon as they begin to ripen. Melons harvested at full slip stage from the garden will be sweeter than those harvested earlier.
Email Julia Laughlin, Oklahoma County Extension horticulture educator, at email@example.com.