HOME > Chowhound > Gardening >


1st time gardner needs advice on when to harvest


Our first time gardening has so far been very successful. Our tomato plants have nearly reached my shoulder! The cilantro is thriving; the basil is the size of a bush. I'm fine harvesting the herbs when needed for cooking and have been systematically pinching off all the herbs' flowers. But have no idea when to start cutting off the veggies. I've attached a pic of our green beans. We have 3 bean plants and one of them seems to have grown beans! When do we start harvesting? I'm so excited, even if it yields 3 beans to start with.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. How exciting! I can't believe your cilantro is thriving at the same time your tomatoes and beans are ready to pick. Cilantro hates the heat or so I've heard. Your beans are ready for picking. When they are close to the width of a pencil or slightly larger is about the right time to pick. If you wait until the individual beans inside the pod are very noticeable, you'll lose quality and the plant will slow down. Your tomatoes obviously need to stay on the vine until ripened, but most other vegetables, say beans, squashes, eggplant, cukes, the taste is best at a smaller size. Plus the more you pick, the more your plants will produce. Happy gardening! Watch out, you just might get hooked.

    1 Reply
    1. re: MrsJonesey

      Agree--harvest early & often if you want green beans to keep producing. Happy gardening! Isn't it a miracle to plant a little seed or plant, and later it turns around and feeds you--I've never gotten over the thrill of that (well, even when the creepy crawlies come out).

    2. You can pick the beans at whatever size you like, from very tiny to large enough to require shelling. They are very good when they are tiny but you don't get much "bean for your buck". I agree that pencil size is about right. You will probably find that you need more than three bean plants. Maybe try growing some pole beans next year if you don't have much space.

      Tomatoes, for me it depends on how the plants are doing and whether vermin are bothering them. I will frequently pick them when about a quarter of the tomato is still slightly green and let them finish ripening on the window sill.

      1. The more you pick the basil, the more you'll get (and no flowers). You can rinse, dry, and freeze the leaves if you have too much to use right away. They won't be super pretty to put on a margherita pizza whole or to use as a garnish, but they will taste just fine in sauces, marinades, dressings, etc.

        I hate the flavor the cilantro gets once it even thinks about flowering so no advice there. I've left mine to just do its thing. I want to see if I can get coriander seeds from it.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Njchicaa

          Yeah, frozen/thawed basil gets ugly, but as you noted, keeps its flavor. Otherwise, make lots and lots of pesto with the excess fresh stuff--it's great to give as gifts from your garden, too.

          1. re: Njchicaa

            A gardener in my community garden routinely lets the cilantro go to seed. The fresh green seeds have a peppery taste that is delightful in salads and other dishes, and if one waits a little longer the dry brown seeds become the coriander we use in Indian dishes.

            1. re: Njchicaa

              I have no luck with cilantro after about May (DC area). It goes straight to bolt. Maybe I should try to grow it for the coriander seeds too.

            2. I would also add that since this is your first time gardening, look out for the dreaded tomato hornworm. If you notice chewed leaves or the telltale droppings, start looking directly above the droppings. They can be hard to see, as they are the same shade of green as the plant. Google for an image.

              1 Reply
              1. re: MrsJonesey

                I thought of this post this morning when I pulled a 4" long, at least 1/2" thick hornworm off of a tomato plant. I just pulled one off a couple days ago on the same plant. I had been looking for droppings on the leaves and didn't see any. Just happened to be stooped down to see how dry the soil was when I noticed the miniscule green grenades on top of the mulch. Aha! Seems I forget about the green grenades every year. Of course, when you see them, you know without a doubt there is a fat hornworm somewhere near the top of the plant, almost always directly above the droppings. They are especially hard to see when they are attached to a stem.

              2. For most things, better sooner than later. I think those beans look just about ready now. Generally speaking, don't wait around for veggies to get as big as ones you sometimes see in stores. Bell peppers, squash, okra, cucumbers - these are all better when they are smaller rather than gigantic, IMO. Tomatoes, of course, are best ripened on the vine and tomatillos develop inside the papery outer shell so I wait for them to almost fill the shell before picking. For root crops, like radishes, beets, turnips, carrots, etc., be sure to thin them ( you can eat the thinned ones, including greens) so that they have room to grown.

                1. I picked all of the beans that were near pencil size. The crop was about 10 beans, but they were delicious and very beany. I boiled them and then tossed with dill and butter.

                  We planted the cilantro in the opposite corner from the tomatoes. It is pretty well shaded.

                  Thanks for the advice on the tomato hornworm. I see no evidence of it, but will keep my eyes peeled.

                  It has been excruciatingly hot the past week, so we've been watering lots.

                  I'll post pics when the peppers and eggplants start looking like they might be read to pick.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: relizabeth

                    when the cilantro starts bolting (shooting straight up) pick it all, unless you want coriander.

                    1. re: Chowrin

                      I dont really want coriander seeds. Can I chop all of those feathery leaves off the cilantro to stop that nonsense?

                      1. re: relizabeth

                        no. pull the whole plant, plant more. next time, chop before you see the feathers (pull off most of the outside leaves) and there will be more cilantro before you get the feathers.

                    2. re: relizabeth

                      I'm glad you enjoyed your beans. Another very simple but delicious way to prepare beans straight from the garden is to add to heavily salted boiling water and cook till just crisp tender, blanche in ice water, then drain and pat dry. Heat some really good olive oil over medium heat, add green beans and toss until just heated through. Great just like that but you can also add some lemon zest and/or chopped parsley just before serving.

                      You were smart to plant your cilantro in the shade. I have extended the lettuce harvesting that way.

                      About tomato hornworms, I get them every year. One year I thought the birds were pecking holes in my tomatoes so I put up bird netting. Solved that problem but then I started seeing the hornworms. The birds had been after the worms, so now I don't mind the occasional bird damage.

                      Very hot here too. 97 in the shade and we are into our 8th day without power.

                      1. re: MrsJonesey

                        "Very hot here too. 97 in the shade and we are into our 8th day without power."

                        That's rough right there. I would cry if our power went out for long enough to lose all the produce and meat in our freezer. I really need to get a generator that can at least keep the well pump and freezer and refrigerator going.

                        1. re: kengk

                          Yeah, and you really want to do it, including having an electrician do the wiring for it, before you lose power. We are going through about $30 a day in gas to run the generator but still cheaper than losing all the cold/frozen food and gardens, staying in a hotel and eating out. We are supposed to have power tonight.

                        2. re: MrsJonesey

                          I will definitely use the bean recipe on the pound I bought at the farmers Market today. It is 500x bigger than our garden's yield.

                          I really hope your power comes back soon. It sounds absolutely nightmarish. The cold front finally hit WI, so much of our discomfort has abated. We put bottles of water in the freezer and wrapped them in tea towels to help cool us and the poor cat. It was a real help at night.

                          1. re: relizabeth

                            We finally got power last night! Hooray! Yes, our cat was quite miserable too. He has long, very thick hair. I ended up using the trimmers on his belly to take about half the length off. Not the best job but he was more comfortable.

                            Hope you enjoy the green beans with olive oil. Another favorite way I use green beans, if you're interested, is this Mexican Green Bean Salad from Simply Recipes. http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/...

                            For your cilantro, if you keep the blooms picked, it won't form the coriander seeds.

                      2. One other thing you ought to watch out for is critters eating the tomatoes. Last year I had so many squirrels, chipmunks and birds taking a bite out of almost ripe tomatoes, that I either picked them as soon as they turned pinkish and let them ripen inside, or else I constructed little cages out of old milk containers to protect the fruit until it was ripe. And this year I have had deer nipping the tops off tomato plants. Aint nature wunnerful?

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: DonShirer

                          There is a horrible rabbit problem here. And there is the cutest baby bunny (and maybe it's siblings?) that feasts on our neighbours' plots. It is the sweetest lil enemy. Any advice on how to scare it away with little effort on our part?

                          1. re: relizabeth

                            relizabeth: yup, our adorable bunnies are driving me bonkers. It would be FINE if they would eat 1-2 tomatoes, but they take nips out of 10 tomatoes to find the choicest one! :)

                            1. re: pine time

                              Bunnies are tasty. Better (I'm guessing) than the field rats that like to munch on my produce.