By Rita Bricker

Rita Bricker

Now is the time of the year when many of the fruits and vegetables growing in our yards are starting to ripen. There is nothing tastier than a fresh tomato picked right off the vine or a juicy peach just plucked from your backyard tree. But how do you know when your homegrown food is ready to harvest?  Let’s find out!

Apples – The fruit is ready when it can be easily separated from the tree.
Beans (Snap) – For best flavor pick when pods are thinner than a pencil and seeds are tender but not fully formed.
Cantaloupe – The rind should be tan, not green, between the netting. The melon will readily release from the plant when you see a crack around the base of the fruit stem.
Corn (Sweet) – Harvest when silk tips are brown and ears feel firm. Pierce a kernel with your fingernail; if the juice is milky, the ear is ready to pick.
Cucumber – For pickling, sweets can be harvested when 1½ to 2 inches long and dills when 3 to 4 inches long. For fresh slicing cukes, pick when 7 to 9 inches long and bright, dark green in color.
Eggplant – These are ready when the fruit is firm and bright in color. Cut with 1 inch of the stem attached.
Grapes – The best indicators of ripeness are color and taste. Grapes must completely ripen on the vine to achieve maximum sweetness before picking them.
Peaches, Nectarines – These should be allowed to ripen fully on the tree. When the skin of the fruit is the expected color and the fruit easily separates from the stem, it’s ready.
Pears – Pears are ready to pick when the green color lightens and the stem parts easily from the spur, but they should still be hard. Pears ripen best off the tree. They are ready to eat when the stem end of the fruit yields slightly to pressure.
Peppers – Green bells will be firm to the touch when ready. Sweet peppers will turn from green to red, yellow, orange, chocolate brown or purple when they are ripe. For best flavor, hot peppers should be allowed to ripen fully on the plant before harvesting.
Summer Squash – The best flavor and texture for zucchini are obtained when they are harvested at about 4-8 inches long and about 1½ inches in diameter. Scallops are best enjoyed when they are about 3-4 inches in size when picked.
Tomatoes – Harvest these when they have fully changed color to red with the slightest touch of softness. However, they will continue to ripen after picking if they are harvested when still firm.
Watermelon – These lovelies are ready to pick when the curly tendrils are dry and brown and the skin of the fruit is no longer shiny, but dull. The bottom of the fruit (resting on the soil) will change from light green to cream or yellow when ripe.
Did you know most vegetables should be harvested early in the morning when their water content is highest? Corn, however, should be picked later in the afternoon when the sugar content is at its peak.
Watch for the ripening treasures in your garden. Harvest them, clean them, store them properly (a topic for another time), and enjoy them at their best.

Rita Bricker is co-coordinator of the Master Gardeners in Maricopa. She supervises the staff and activities of the Pinal County Master Gardener diagnostic office in the Maricopa Agricultural Center.

This column appears in the June issue of InMaricopa.