Winter vegetables best time to harvest

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 12, 2011

Fresh vegetables are one of the benefits of growing your own garden! The vegetables we grow in Louisiana during the cool season are some of the most delicious and nutritious that our home gardens can produce. Many of the vegetables we planted in late summer and early fall are ready to harvest – or will

be soon. It is important to harvest vegetables at the proper stage for best results, so here are a few guidelines for some common cool-season crops.

Root crops are harvested when the root is the proper size. Usually, the top of the root is readily visible at ground level, but it is easy enough to brush aside the soil at the base of the leaves to check on the size of the root. Harvest radishes and carrots when the root is about 1 inch across. Carrots can be left in the ground once they are mature to be harvested as needed – and the tops can be used as a parsley substitute. Turnips should be harvested when they are 2 to 3 inches in diameter and rutabagas (a close relative) when they are 4 to 5 inches in diameter. Beets are best harvested at 2 to 3 inches and parsnips at 1 1/2 to 2 inches.

In order to get good production, these plants must be spaced properly in the garden. When the seeds you plant come up, it is very important to thin the seedlings at least as far apart as the width of the mature root in order to get good production. Leaving the seedlings too crowded is a common reason for root crops producing small or misshapen roots.

Broccoli heads are not harvested based on the size of the head but when the largest individual flower buds are about the size of a kitchen match head. Do not allow the heads to remain on the plant so long that some of the buds open and produce a yellow flower. Remember, smaller side heads will develop after the main head has been harvested, so leave the plant in place for additional harvest.

Harvesting cauliflower also depends more on the appearance of the head rather than its size. The curds of the head should be relatively smooth, very much like the cauliflower that you buy in the supermarket. If allowed to stay on the plant too long, the head will begin to separate and lose quality. If you did not blanch your cauliflower by covering the head with the plant’s leaves, it may have a purple, green or yellow tint to it. This does not greatly affect the quality of the head.

Leafy crops such as mustard, spinach, Swiss chard, leaf lettuce, collards and turnips should be

harvested frequently by breaking

off the lowest, largest leaves (cropping). Harvest the entire head of semi-heading varieties of lettuce such as bibb, buttercrunch and romaine when the head is fully developed.

Cabbage is ready to harvest when the head is solid and hard. Cabbage is one of the few crops that may be left in the garden after they are ready to harvest, although the heads may split. If you are going to leave fully formed heads in the garden, rotate the entire plant one-half turn to prevent splitting. (This slows water uptake by breaking some of the roots.)

Snow peas and edible-pod peas are productive, delicious and well worth growing. Harvest snow peas when the pods are full size but still quite flat. Edible-pod peas, such as Sugar Snap peas, should be harvested when the pods are full and round but before the peas inside the pod have fully developed. Both types of peas should be checked daily and harvested frequently.

Bunching onions and green shallots can be harvested anytime during the winter when the tops are large enough. Dig up the entire clump and separate off about one-half of the clump to harvest, and then replant the rest to continue to grow and divide for future harvesting.

Proper harvesting of vegetables guarantees that you are getting the best nutritional benefits from your vegetables.

The above information was taken from an article by Dan Gill, horticulture specialist with the LSU Ag Center. For more information you may also contact your local LSU Ag Center County Agent.

If you have any questions, please contact your local LSU Ag Center County Agent. You can contact David Pichon, County Agent-St. John Parish at 985-497-3261 or by email at