When to Harvest Vegetables

Millie Davenport,
Home & Garden Information Center

As gardeners add new species to the vegetable garden, it can be difficult to know the right time for harvest. Here are a few tips for proper harvest time for a couple of crops harvested in the fall.

Pumpkins & Winter Squash

For optimum storage these should be harvested when mature. Winter squash will have a very hard skin that cannot be punctured with your thumbnail when mature and the fruit will have a dull, dry-appearing surface.

Harvesting vegetables
Harvesting vegetables

Under ideal conditions, cured winter squash can last eight weeks or more. The winter squash can be cured by following these steps:

  1. Do not harvest wet fruit. Cut the fruit from the vine and leave a generous handle or stem.
  2. Wash with soapy water to remove surface dirt.
  3. Dip the fruit in a dilute chlorine solution of 4 teaspoons bleach per gallon of water.
  4. Allow fruit to dry but do not rinse until use.
  5. Store the fruit in temperatures between 80 to 85 °F with 75 to 80% relative humidity for approximately 10 days.
  6. Then fruit should be moved to a storage area at 50 to 55 °F and 50 to 75% relative humidity with good ventilation.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes should be ready to harvest when 30% are larger than 3½ inches in diameter. Be sure to harvest before frost because cool soil temperatures can reduce the quality and storage capacity of the sweet potatoes. When harvesting, it is best to cut and remove the vines before digging.

The optimal conditions for curing are to expose the roots to 85 °F and 90% humidity for one week. These conditions are difficult for most homeowners to provide so place the sweet potatoes in the warmest room in the house for 14 days. No curing will occur at temperatures below 70 °F. Cured sweet potatoes can be stored in a cool location for up to six months (never below 50 ºF).

For more detailed information on when and how to harvest vegetables see HGIC 1262, Harvesting Vegetables

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This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.