Pascual Hernandez
Pascual Hernandez

If you planted a garden, you are looking forward to enjoying high quality garden vegetables. But, for that to happen, vegetables must be harvested at peak maturity, handled properly, and stored under optimal conditions. This is because vegetables continue their life processes even after they are picked.

Three factors important in protecting the quality of your produce after harvest are temperature, moisture, and ventilation.

Let’s start with temperature. For produce such as peas and sweet corn, the conversion of sugar to starch is critical to interrupt at harvest. To minimize this conversion, the produce must be cooled immediately. So, if possible, harvest these vegetables early in the morning or right before you intend to use them.

If the vegetables are mature at harvest, their life processes need to be slowed by chilling. If they are immature produce such as green tomatoes, store them at room temperature to enhance the ripening process. Except for ripening, storage does not improve a vegetable’s quality.

Moisture is also important, but the proper humidity level for storage varies for each vegetable. Leafy type vegetables require a high humidity of about 95 percent, while onions can be stored in drier conditions (65 - 70 percent relative humidity).

Ventilation is similarly significant, and we can minimize wilting and tissue breakdown by ensuring that air can circulate properly.

To be acceptable, a vegetable must be cultivated properly and of good quality at harvest. Knowing when to harvest is vital.

Cucumbers should be harvested when fruits are bright, firm, and green and before they get too large. Avoid yellowed cucumbers. You can store cucumbers in the refrigerator for 5 days.

Melons can be harvested when the fruits are full size and have a dull surface and a cream-colored ground spot.

For optimum quality, harvest okra that is 3 to 4 inches long. Harvest the pods before they reach the hollow, puffy stage and while they are easy to break or cut from the stalk. Chill the harvested okra immediately.

It can be difficult to determine when vegetables reach peak quality. It will help to keep a record of the varieties planted and the dates they were planted.

The AgriLife Extension publication “Harvesting, Handling, and Storing Vegetables” is a good resource and is free. For information on how to get it, contact the Sutton County Extension Office.