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How do I know when to harvest?

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I am working on my first attempt at a garden. It is a container garden and I have tomatoes, bell peppers, banana peppers, radishes, carrots and green onions growing. I was overwatering at first, but once I realized I cut back and things are looking better.

I have three tomatoes, about the size of golf balls, on my 6 tomato plants. Not very much, but I see lots of flowers now so I'm hopeful. I have blooms on my pepper plants too and I noticed a 4-5 inch banana pepper on one plant. As for the carrots, radishes and onions, I have no idea what's going on beneath the soil. I did pull out one radish and it was maybe the size of a large grape. I'm worried if I leave them too long they will get spongy, as I've heard that happens.

I'd appreciate any tips on harvesting!

p.s. A friend whose father was a commercial tomato grower told me that in his private garden he used to string up his tomato plants, rather than cage or stake them. I've done this and so far so good. Think of a clothes line that runs across the tops of my plants (staked on either side) and a separate string tied from the plant to the overhead line.

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  1. I don't know where you live (and I live in a part of the country where this is a September question!) so I will only answer in generalities.

    Tomatoes will virtually fall into your hand when ripe. Grab the whole fruit in your palm and twist slightly, if it doesn't come, its not time yet.

    BTW, if your toms are getting too heavy for your arrangement of string, pantihose are a wonderful alternative for hoisting them up until their time comes!

    With carrots and radishes, it is a matter of 'peeking'...but it you have ascertained that the radishes are grape size already and you are watering properly and you have a lot of sun, then you should start checking by pulling one up every few days in a couple of weeks.

    17 Replies
    1. re: LJS

      Many thanks, LJS. So sorry, I forgot to mention where I am. I am in NC, so we're a little bit ahead of the game, I suppose. As you can tell I'm a newbie w/ the whole gardening thang. Herbs are all I've attempted previously. :)

      1. re: lynnlato

        As LJS says "peeking" is a good indicator for carrots and radishes. The size and maturity of the tops is another way but it will take some practice. As a newbie, if I tell you to pull the carrots or radishes when the tops are fully mature you won't know what I'm talking about.

        If you don't want to continually sacrifice your vegetables (but remember, they are edible - and delicious - at the young stage and it's a great way to thin the crop), scratch the dirt around the tops and gently dig down a bit. You should be able to ascertain size and color this way.
        NB: different carrots & radishes mature at different sizes. An icicle radish is long and slender VS a French breakfast radish which is much shorter. A Nantes carrot is short and stubby (great for lousy clay soil BTW) and will never reach the full length of what we usually see as a carrot. You'll learn as you go and next year this will seem like old hat to you.

        1. re: Sherri

          "You'll learn as you go and next year this will seem like old hat to you."

          I hope you're right, Sherri. I would hate to spend all this time and $$, and have little to show for it. I did pick my first banana pepper today. Well, it was falling off the plant, but nonetheless it looks good.

          Thanks for your tips.

          1. re: lynnlato

            I use nantes carrots and I found that when they were ready you could see the 'bums' poking out, or you can scratch around and feel the width, this will give you a good idea of the size, if it is not right, then put more dirt around the 'bum' otherwise it will go green. I think it is the same for radishes, I am keeping an eye on mine that way. they are close but not quite.

            i agree about the tomatos, they seems to fall off into your hand when they are ready.

            1. re: cleopatra999

              Um, I think it's called the shoulder, but I like bum. And I agree, that's the thing to do.

              1. re: cleopatra999

                I like "bum" too. :)

                Yep, my radishes' bums are poking up a bit, but they aren't very big, so today I did as you said. I'll give them a little more time.

                1. re: lynnlato

                  re: the radishes, a very, very frugal French friend used to make soup from the radish tops. Her mother (grandmother?) taught her this truc learned during WWII. At first I was quite skeptical, but found it tasty and unusual; a riff on watercress flavor that is free for those of us who garden.
                  Wilt a large handful or two of washed radish leaves in a small knob of butter. After several minutes, add enough flour to make a paste and cook the roux until all flour-y smell has disappeared. Add a cup or two (or more, depending on the amount of radish leaves) of chicken broth, milk, water or combination. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes, add SPTT. Whirl in blender. Serve hot or cold.
                  NB: I have found that a bit of heavy cream is not a bad idea but certainly distracts from the "frugal" aspect while adding to the "taste" profile. Your choice.

                  1. re: Sherri

                    SPTT. Totally read that as "spit." Very frugal, as it is free.

                    1. re: small h

                      kitchen shorthand for - salt pepper to taste, sorry for the confusion

                      1. re: Sherri

                        I did figure it out, after some hard staring (and thanks for the addition to my mental acronym collection - hopefully it will overwrite EVOO). That soup seems like a good method for any kind of greens.

                    2. re: Sherri

                      Wow, Sherri, very interesting. I'll definitely give it a try. With the cream, it sounds extra lovely. :)

                      1. re: lynnlato

                        I was reading the "Chocolate & Zucchini" blog and was surprised to learn the author makes radish leaf pesto for pasta. Whodathunkit? I am pleased to report this concoction is absolutely delicious! Yet another use for your radish leaves ..... oh, those frugal French are really on to something.

                        1. re: Sherri

                          do you have a link to that recipe?

                          1. re: cleopatra999

                            There was no actual recipe that I saw, just text about substituting very fresh radish leaves for basil and perhaps adding a squeeze of lemon juice.

                            1. re: Sherri

                              great, thanks! I may just give this a go!

                              1. re: cleopatra999

                                Amazing things happen when one scrolls down to the bottom of the page -- a recipe appears! The Radish Leaf Pesto recipe follows, courtesy of "Chocolate & Zucchini".
                                Radish Leaf Pesto

                                - 2 large handfuls of good-looking radish leaves, stems removed
                                - 30 grams (1 ounce) hard cheese, such as pecorino or parmesan, grated or shaved using a vegetable peeler
                                - 30 grams (1 ounce) nuts, such as pistachios, almonds, or pinenuts (avoid walnuts, which make the end result too bitter in my opinion)
                                - 1 clove garlic, germ removed, cut in four
                                - a short ribbon of lemon zest cut thinly from an organic lemon with a vegetable peeler (optional)
                                - 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to get the consistency you like
                                - salt, pepper, ground chili pepper

                                Put all the ingredients in a food processor or blender or mini-chopper, and process in short pulses until smooth. You will likely have to scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice. This produces a thick pesto; add more oil and pulse again to get the consistency you prefer. (This can also be done with a mortar and pestle; it's great for your karma and your triceps.)

                                Taste, adjust the seasoning, and pack into an airtight container (I use a recycled glass jar). Use within a few days (it will keep longer if you pour a thin layer of oil on the surface) or freeze.

                  2. re: cleopatra999

                    LOVE the "bum" reference! I am going to use that from now on: it is so apt!

          2. The strings were great. I used a PVC pipe or just a clothesline and tied them as well. I also tried that SILLY Topsy Turvey Tomato thing where the plants hang upside down. Advertised on TV all the time. So far it looks great and doing very well. I am surprised for this late in season here.

            Carrots, depends on the variety. For the first time planting you peek. After many years, I learned to plant a bit shallower and you can see the very top of the carrot starting to peak out.

            Do follow the recs on the back of the package for the right zone providing you had normal weather for this time of year. Then starting peeking when you get close to the time of maturity.

            If radishes are already grape size. Give it another week or two. Peppers are pretty easy to look at and tell.

            1. Wow! We are still afraid to plant out tomato seedlings becaus night time temps have been going down into the 30's! We just planted radish seeds last weekend.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Passadumkeg

                I know this thread was KILLING me because they are SO far ahead of us Canucks. I am just saying good-bye to asparagus, rhubarb is just coming in and won't be saying "hi' to carrots and radishes for 2-3 months!

                1. re: LJS

                  Do you have black flies? They are so thick that I go to my garden at 5 am, before work to put in my tomatoes. Too cool at that time of day for many bugs.

                  1. re: LJS

                    LJS, when do you plant your radishes? they should be one of the very first things you get to eat, I planted mine Apr 20th, they went a little dormant when we got a freeze, I will be seeing them for sure in a few weeks. carrots are definitely late up here, but those too, I got some in the same date as the radishes. where are you?