It's time to reap the rewards of gardening.

You prepped, you planted, and now it’s time to reap the rewards – after all, no vegetable tastes better than the one you grew yourself.

Seeing the first crops spring to life is the most satisfying part of gardening, but it doesn’t mean your work is finished; it just means it’s time to shift your attention to your vegetables’ individual needs and take note of whether or not they’re ready to be harvested.

Daily visits

Checking in on your garden is important all season long, but as things begin to ripen, daily perusals are a must. Pluck runaway vegetables from the soil to keep bugs away, and check under leaves for any hidden invaders. Make sure that barriers such as chicken wire haven’t been compromised by wily critters looking for a snack – it only takes one hungry rabbit to ravage a garden, so fix any potential weak spots or breeches immediately. 

Make a growth chart

With the passing months, you’ve become more and more familiar with your plants, but do you remember each plant’s target harvest date? If not, now’s the time to brush up on that information. Make a growth chart for your garden to determine when and how to harvest your vegetables. There are no strict guidelines for when to harvest garden vegetables, but there are ways to judge whether or not yours are ready for picking. Remember: Determinate varieties ripen all at once, while indeterminate varieties continue to produce all season long.

Don’t compare 

I can’t say this enough: The size and shape of conventional produce found in large grocery chains is not the yardstick by which to measure your home garden’s produce. At the peak of ripeness, most garden vegetables will weigh in at slightly less than their grocery-store counterparts, and if you let them go too long, they could rot. Pay attention to their target harvest date and how they look, feel and smell – and save the overgrown produce for the state fair. 

Fine-tuning with pruning

While you’re busy plucking your bounty, take the time to check how the plants themselves are doing – you need them healthy so that they can keep doing their job and you can keep wowing people with your haul. Enter pruning. There are two ways to prune, depending on what needs the work: pinching, which involves using your fingers to pinch off spent flower heads or leftover fruit, or pruning, which can involve using your fingers to break off smaller stems or using actual pruning tools for larger jobs. Both are effective ways of managing your plants; both methods increase light and airflow in your garden, resulting in higher yields for you and your loved ones. For vining plants such as tomatoes, pruning is essential – too much weight and shade and you’ll end up with a disaster. Pruning regularly keeps the finicky plant happy, which means more fruit in the end.

Shannon Weber is the creator, author and photographer behind the award-winning blogaperiodictableblog.com, and her work has appeared on websites such as Bon Appétit, Serious Eats and America’s Test Kitchen.

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