What’s the Best Time of Day to Harvest Your Garden Vegetables?

Reader Contribution by Ricardo Elisiaro
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Regarding fruits and vegetables, there is always a more adequate hour of the day to harvest each of these fresh products.

Knowing when and how to pluck them can mean the difference between eating something that tastes a lot fresher and much more flavorful, or something which is warm and showing signs of stress and softness that throw it far from its ideal condition for being cooked.

But so what should be the best time of day (or night) to pick our garden vegetables, fruits and flowers?

At Sunrise

Right after the sun rises and during the early morning, it’s likely that you’ll see the garden covered in dew — especially throughout the colder seasons — a natural layer of coolness that won’t take long to fade away as the day grows hotter. This means you must seize the opportunity when it presents itself.

What happens is that if you harvest something which was already under stress before the umbilical cord linking it to its source is severed, then the potential that said vegetable has to last long enough in your pantry or fridge will be very compromised.

The only types of garden products whose picking you’d rather postpone might be herbs and any other things that you intend to dry and keep stored for longer than immediate consumption. You may harvest these at midday or sometime during the afternoon, once their skin, roots or leaves are completely dry, lessening the chances of them rotting on your shelf.

At Sunset

Even after the sun has stopped beating down on the garden, the fruits and leafy greens you’re aiming to harvest will still be in possession of some heat, accumulated in their tissues.

During summer, you’ll experience that more time needs to pass before a plant’s temperature decreases to a cooler, edible state — that is if it decreases at all, because some evenings remain so warm until late into the night. So much that only at the earliest hours before sunrise do they reach their coldest state.

You can always force them to cool down by means of watering — something which is often done during the late afternoon — and that way you’re actively reducing the vegetables’ mushiness once you handle them in the kitchen, for you allowed the plant to drink up for a while and rehydrate its leaves, fruits or inflorescences, depending on which organ of the plant you intend to have for dinner.

Also keep in mind that putting freshly picked greens under the quick cold of the fridge or even freezer when you wish to invert their core condition and make them crunchier and fresher, faster than otherwise possible, might cause some adulteration of the flavor and texture of those products. This is something to be aware of, as it’ll help you decide on the best way to treat garden produce in order to preserve as much of their nutritious value and organoleptic characteristics as you possibly can.

General Rules for Better Conservation

Regardless of you harvesting your vegetables early in the morning, late in the evening or right in between these two moments in time, there are a few rules that are best followed if you wish to conserve these pickings longer than just a couple of days, at best.

Among those rules, I can readily mention that you should be careful handling these green products to assure they remain intact and also that they are free from plaguing insects, soil or weeds when it’s time to get them stored, or when their leafy necks are to go meet the chopping board.

About the rest, let’s see what other factors most impact the longevity of garden products, starting from the moment they’re plucked and brought inside our homes.

Low Temperature

The first thing to know is that many of the vegetables we know and use do not die the very second they’re picked from the mother plant, i.e., their internal metabolism continues to react and convert reagents into products, which is why they spoil when left on the counter for too long.

In the cold, this cellular respiration of harvested greens will reduce, thus slowing down the natural process of maturation, or decay, if the fruit or vegetable is non-climacteric and doesn’t continue to ripen and get tastier after being harvested (these are the ones that “die” quicker by starting senescence almost immediately after they’re picked).

Keeping in mind that just like certain highs of temperature in your kitchen will catalyse the rotting of any fresh products left out of the fridge, so can excessive cold alter their color and flavor. Examples of these are bananas and mangoes — in general, most tropical fruits — that will suffer from dark spots as well as textural and chemical alterations of the pulp, if subjected to lower temperatures. However, the majority of our common veggies can be kept cold and, that way, see their shelf life extended in many days or weeks.

Ventilated Atmosphere

One thing about maturation and the respiration of vegetables is that it is quite contagious. What I mean — and you probably already know the trick with bananas, that can be used to foster a quicker ripening of surrounding fruits on the same bowl — is that the ethylene released from each and every climacteric fruit and vegetable is highly inducive of an accelerated maturation of any other living green which is also climacteric and so has receptors for this gas.

With ventilation, the passage of air will not only blow the ethylene away and slow down the process of maturation but also allow for the veggies to dry out, preventing unnecessary rots or mere softening of the edible tissues out of built-up moisture over at your pantry or fridge drawers.

Produce Isolation

Now, if we sum the two factors just explained — heat and ethylene concentration — it comes as an immediate thought that whatever we keep, both inside the fridge or out on the fruit bowl (though especially the latter), should be separated and isolated well enough so that the gases produced are not exchanged between the different fruits and vegetables. This way, neither will any bugs, bacteria or already present molds spread out to the rest of your produce.

In being methodical about the organisation of these groceries, you can better control how they’re responding to the passage of time and the environment you’re storing them in.

Being conscious and capable of managing this post-harvest phase can be as important as knowing how to boost up that yield rate when you’re out back growing them. At each stage, you can gain and also lose, so it’s important to take charge of the right techniques for picking, processing and storing everything that your yard gifts you.

It’s okay that whatever the earth gives, you may reverently take away, but at least strive to do it the right way at the right time.

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