Know When Your Veggies are Ripe - Carolina Country

Know When Your Veggies are Ripe

Plus Garden To-Do’s for June

By L.A. Jackson

Know When Your Veggies are Ripe
Black Beauty eggplant

With most summer vegetable gardens in full grow mode now, it is time to share some “tricks of the trade” on determining when it is best to pick various veggies. These pointers can also be helpful to folks who don’t have gardens but go to pick-your-own farms. Frequenters to farmers’ markets will probably also find a few tips to “harvest” produce at their freshest.

Bell Peppers. The typical bell pepper can be picked when it is either green or red. A red bell pepper is just riper than a green one and usually tastes slightly sweeter. It is usually best to harvest these peppers when they are about 2 to 3 inches in diameter.

Carrots. Carrots are normally ready when their orange crowns poke out above the soil line. For better storage, cut off all but about 2 inches of the fern tops after you pull carrots from the ground.

Cucumbers. Although they come in all sizes, standard cukes will, of course, be a deep green when mature. However, if a cucumber starts to show a yellow tint, it is past ripe.

Summer Squash. Crook, straight-neck and zucchini squash should be picked when about 6 inches long. Round patty pan varieties are in their prime around 4 to 5 inches in diameter.

Okra. Better tasting (and less slimy) okra pods are normally 2 to 3 inches long. Chef’s Tip: For little or no slime, leave the pods whole when boiling okra.

Green Beans. These beans are at their best when they are about 3 to 6 inches long. At these sizes, the seeds haven’t started to swell yet, and the pods are tender enough to snap easily.

Eggplant. Standard varieties, such as “Black Beauty” and “Classic,” should have a shiny, dark purple color and be about 4 to 5 inches in diameter. Any eggplant that has been on the stem too long will lose its shine — this also applies to the newer, fancy-colored varieties such as “Neon” and “Ping Tung.”

Tomatoes. Come on — everybody knows what a ripe tomato looks like, right? Sometimes, however, ’maters are picked with a bit of green still showing. To turn the green to red and make them fully ripe, simply place picked tomatoes in a cozy area indoors. A sunny windowsill won’t do because ol’ Sol’s direct rays could redden the skin but not ripen the inside of the tomato. Moderate warmth, not strong light, is the key to properly maturing a tomato.

CC Orange Daylily

Orange daylily

Garden To-Do’s for June

  • The ubiquitous orange-flowering daylilies lighting up roadsides this month are, for the most part, Hemerocallis fulva, an Asian species introduced long ago for use as a garden ornamental and erosion control. Commonly known as orange daylily, tawny daylily or, unflatteringly, ditch lily, this fast-spreading plant has become naturalized in 42 states — in some locations, to the point of being invasive. So, think twice about adding this daylily to your landscape because, unless the rapidly increasing rhizomes are frequently divided, it can become a bully with nearby plants. Also keep in mind there have been many daylily hybrids developed over the years that show off more impressive displays of orange blooms and are clump-forming, meaning they behave better in the garden.
  • When irrigating plants, water thoroughly and deeply every five to six days to encourage roots to penetrate deep into the soil where soil moisture is more constant.
  • This Father’s Day, do something different and plant a specimen tree or shrub in his honor.
  • If you want to spot-spray weeds and not worry about drift to favored plants, cut the bottom out of an empty two- or three-liter plastic soda bottle, place the slit end over the offending weeds, spritz herbicide into the narrow top opening, let the spray settle and then move on to other unwanted plants.

About the Author

L.A. Jackson is the former editor of Carolina Gardener Magazine. If you would like to ask him a question about your garden, contact L.A. at:

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