Harvesting Tricks For Higher Yields

Freshly harvested greens Freshly harvested greens

At the end of weeks or months of work comes the long-awaited day when it’s time to come into the garden with a harvest basket and collect the reward for your efforts. There are as many ways to harvest as there are gardeners harvesting and no hard and fast rules to follow, but a few considerations will help keep your plants yielding more and for the longest possible time. Here are a few of our favorite tricks of the trade when it comes to harvesting:

Know when to harvest. To get the most from your garden, it’s essential to know when crops are at their peak readiness. Before scrolling ahead, read up on how to know when to harvest what.


** Harvest everything. ** The most important advice we can give is not just to pick the most beautiful fruits and juiciest leaves, but to indiscriminately pick whatever is ready in the garden. The best looking crops will go to your kitchen and the rest can be harvested for the compost pile. Picking off dead leaves and overripe fruit will keep the plant healthier, and for many crops, will encourage them to produce more.

Folding Harvest Knife

Folding Harvest Knife

High-quality stainless steel harvest knife.

Harvest in the coolest part of the day. If you can, pick your crops when the temperature in the garden matches closest to the temperature in your refrigerator. This helps what you pick look fresh and is less stressful for the plant itself. Mornings or evenings are best.

Prune herbs often. Most herbs grow into a bushy plant (basil, oregano, sage, etc) or from a central rosette close to the ground (cilantro, parsley, dill). To encourage new growth and keep them from bolting, cut or pinch your herbs often. Bushier varieties should be cut with a harvest knife or scissors right above a new set of baby leaves, which are found emerging from the elbow between the main stem and a branch. Herbs that grow as rosettes can be cut entirely, but high enough from the ground (a few inches) so most of the new leaves coming up from the ground are not damaged.

Cut and come again for leaf lettuce and greens. The category of greens that grow as loose leaves, instead of forming a head are called “cut and come again” varieties for a simple reason. When cut evenly (a sharp knife will make a big difference!) a few inches above the ground, such varieties will keep on growing for two or three more harvests!

Dino Kale Dino Kale

Grow Collards, Kale and Chard like palm trees. To keep these plants producing through the season, pick only the outermost leaves, always leaving one third of leaves (in the center) intact. Cut them close to the main stem. The plants will grow in the shape of a palm tree and continue growing delicious leaves.

For more fruits, pick gently. The bulk of the summer garden harvest comes from fruiting crops, such as tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, beans, cucumbers, melons, and okra. All of these should be harvested as soon as they are ready, if not before, by simply picking them off the plant by hand, or cutting at the stem right above the fruit. Taking care to not damage the plant will help keep it continue producing more fruits.


Best Fall Roots Set

Best Fall Roots Set

Our favorite roots for fall eating and keeping! Each variety has different sowing needs, read on for more information.

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Leave most root crops till you’re ready. Root crops such as beetscarrotsparsnips, radishes, and rutabagas and turnips (which can be planted now for fall harvest!) can be forgiving in their harvest window and many can be stored right in the soil for mid-winter harvests. However, if left in the ground for a long period in the heat of the summer, some roots, such as small radishes, may become woody and lose flavor, so keep track of their progress with frequent taste tests. To harvest, hold the plant at the base of the stem and pull gently directly upward. For bigger or more stubborn roots, loosen the soil next to them with a garden fork. Twisting often breaks the root in half, so be careful with that move!

Store the surplus. A garden is unlike a supermarket in countless ways, so homegrown vegetables will ripen on their own schedule and sometimes produce a harvest too big for eating fresh. For this good problem, preserve your harvest for winter to avoid the supermarket even long and eat sweet, rich summer flavors in the dreariest months. See here for preservation tips.

7 thoughts on “Harvesting Tricks For Higher Yields”

  • Amy LeBlanc
    Amy LeBlanc 07/21/2018 at 3:29 am

    You should add that a lot of over ripes and trimmings can and should go to the backyard chicken flock!

  • Fran

    Thanks so much for the sage advice! Your seeds are amazing! My gardens the best ever this summer because of your ongoing tips & updates.

    • Isabel Vinton
      Isabel Vinton 07/23/2018 at 6:36 am

      Thanks so much for your kind message. We're delighted to hear that you're enjoying your gardens! If there's ever a topic you'd like us to post on that we haven't yet covered, just let us know!

  • Cheryl

    Does anyone know if there are other plants that can grown among the strawberries this summer time of year? They seem to take up a lot of space and to be somewhat dorment until it cools down towards fall and will reflower. I am always looking for the best utilization of the land! I put cuckes and squash on one end and plan to boost the vines on strings above the strawberries. Will that ruin the wonderful strawberry plant I leave in year after year?

    I'd love more info for next year about what plants like to grown near each other and what doesn't. I always put the green pepper next to the tomatoes but I am noticing that it might not be such a good idea as they are not growing well while the tomatoes are crowding them out for sun. Cheryl

  • Marsha P Kalina
    Marsha P Kalina 08/29/2018 at 7:11 pm

    I have planted various forms of squash over the past several years and have had flowers but no fruit. Can you please help me understand why this would be and what to do about it. I wonder if I am the only person who's had this problem. I know so many people who have very full harvests with beautiful vegetables and I cannot grow a one! (think zucchini or winter squashes).

    • Isabel Vinton
      Isabel Vinton 09/06/2018 at 8:11 am

      Interesting question! There are a few factors that could go into your squash problem. For starters, it always helps to have an excess of pollinators in your garden, so the more companion flowers you have the better (think borage, marigolds, nasturtiums, etc). Next, it could be an issue of having both male and female flowers on your plants. Most squash plants will naturally produce both, but the more plants of the same variety you have growing by each other, the better the chances are. Another factor is time: Male flowers come in first, and the female start to bloom only once the plant has reached maturity. Therefore getting your starts going early, or getting them in the ground asap, will maximize the window of fertility. As a last suggestion, you can always try to pollinate by hand! To identify the female flowers, look at the base for a small nub of a green, immature fruit starting to form. Then pick a male flower, strip the petals, and swish the stamen around in the inside of the female flowers. And don't be discouraged by past failures--gardening is a journey, and your future squash will be all the sweeter for the years it took to get them!


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