Harvesting and Preserving

When and how to harvest your crops

vegetable basketGardeners have the luxury of choosing the best-tasting fruits and vegetable varieties to grow, then harvesting them at their peak of flavor.

But it takes some knowledge and experience to learn just when to cut those buttercup squash off the vine for winter storage, pick Brussels sprouts, or harvest a melon at its peak of ripeness.

These fact sheets should tell you all you need to know about harvesting your crops:

Vegetable Harvest and Storage Comprehensive University of Missouri fact sheet that includes general guidelines for proper storage.

Harvesting Vegetables Another good Extension publication that covers most home vegetable crops.

Harvesting Canteloupes and Watermelons Forget rapping, tapping, and thumping. You'll find these plant indicators more reliable.

Preserving the bounty

Even a small vegetable garden may produce surpluses. Tomatoes, green beans, edible-pod peas, cucumbers, zuchini and other summer squashes are among the crops notorious for out-producing a household's ability to eat them fresh.

Gardeners getting serious about growing enough food for winter storage need to grow the right varieties and learn the hows and whys of each storage method.

gardening suppliesBuy the right seeds

Gardeners planning to eat year-round from their gardens by preserving a good share of the harvest will need to begin by choosing varieties with the right characteristics for the intended method of preservation and assembling appropriate processing equipment or storage spaces.

Places to get this information: seed catalogs, variety descriptions on seed packets, and experienced home gardeners. 

In-ground "storage"

Well-grown, crops such as kale and Brussels sprouts keep well right in the ground where they grew, and may remain available for harvest until well after the New Year.

Providing you mulch them heavily (use newspapers, straw, hay) carrots, parsnips, beets and rutabagas will store nicely right in the ground, ready to pull or dig all winter (providing you can get to them) or in early spring as soon as the snow melts.

Storing Fruits and Vegetables at Home Comprehensive U. Washington publication covers both in-ground and root cellar storage.

"Common" storage

Many crops store well for months without further processing in a protected space after harvest. So-called "common storage" takes the least time, energy, and expense of any other storage method.

If you've grown varieties intended for long storage harvested at their peak of maturity and stored only disease-free specimens, you can keep red and green cabbage, potatoes, onions, garlic, winter squash, carrots, parsnips, beets, rutabagas, and a few other crops just as they come from the garden for periods as long as 10 months. 

These online resources explain how to do it:

Storing Fruits and Vegetables at Home Comprehensive U. Washington publication covers in-ground and root cellar storage, includes root-cellar plans and management instructions.

Storing Fruits and Vegetables at Home Another good fact sheet, from Perdue, with sections on mound, trench, and tile storage strategies.

Storing Vegetables at Home University of Wisconsin's fact sheet on common storage. 

Vegetable Storage in Root Cellars University of Alaska publication contains plans for building a root cellar.

Root Cellars University of Maryland Cooperative Extension fact sheet; comprehensive information about root cellar conditions, and harvest/post-harvest treatment to preserve vegetable quality.


canningFreezing, canning, drying, curing, smoking, fermenting, pickling, jam- and jelly-making

The National Center for Home Food Preservation
 at the University of Georgia offers the latest research-based information about freezing, canning, drying, curing, smoking, fermenting, pickling, and making jams and jellies.

To ensure the safetly of your stored garden products, always refer to this resource.

Also, don't use instructions from old cookbooks or preservation manuals, or practices passed down as cherished family traditions, and don't use equipment or methods not recommended by the Center.

UNH Cooperative Extension food preservation and food safety pages Lots of fact sheets on preserving specific fruits and vegtables.