General Guidelines

  • Harvest during the coolest part of the day.
  • Be gentle with both the plant and the produce.
  • Do not mix high quality produce with compromised produce.
  • Shade harvested produce.
  • Harvest these into a cooler: spinach, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, cilantro, parsley.
  • Do not wash these: potato, sweet potato, tomato, and squash. Cabbage, cauliflower, and pepper need not be washed if they are in a clean condition.
Product  Harvest Instructions Tool
Amaranth When plant begins to drop its seeds, cut off seedheads and rub them between your hands over a bucket. The seeds will fall out. Winnow the chaff so that only seeds remain and place in a sealed container. Pruning Shears
Asparagus Beginning the third year, once spears are 9” tall and have reached at least a ½” diameter, bend spear until it snaps. Harvest for a six week period, then let spears grow for the rest of the season. Place upright in water. Hand
Basil Once plant is about 1’ tall, begin harvest: cut a main stem just above the point where two leaves have sprouted from it. The leaves will become new stems. Do not remove more than half the plant at a time. Do not rinse after harvest. Place in a plastic bag. Pruning Shears
Bean, Dry When at least 90% of leaves have fallen, Remove bean pods and place on a screen indoors to dry. When shells are brittle, break open. Place in a sealed container. Hand
Bean, Green Pull beans from the plant just as pods begin to swell with seeds. Harvest thoroughly and regularly to encourage extended production. Place in a plastic bag. Hand
Beet Pull roots from ground when beets are 2” in diameter. Cut tops to ¼”. Dunk and scrub beets to remove dirt. Dry completely in a shaded area and place in a plastic bag. Hand
Blackberry Not recommended for school gardens. Pull gently on plump, darkly colored berries. They should separate easily from the plant. Place in a pint container. Hand
Blueberry Mature blueberries fall easily from the bush. Place in a pint container. Hand
Broccoli Cut 6” below the central flower head to remove. Flower buds should be swelling but the head still firm. Most plants will continue to produce smaller side shoots which should be harvested regularly. After harvest, dunk broccoli in cold water to remove field heat. Shake off excess water and inspect for cabbageworm. Dry completely under fan in shaded area and place in a plastic bag. Knife
Brussels Sprout When the lower sprouts are ½” in diameter, pinch out the rosette of several small leaves at the top of the plant. After about 4 weeks, all of the sprouts will be fully formed and can be pulled from the plant. Place in a plastic bag. Hand
Cabbage When the head is firm to the grasp, cut it from the plant. Remove undesirable outer leaves and, if found, cabbageworm frass (dark green and watery balls of goop). Knife
Carrot When the carrot tops are about a foot high, loosen the soil and pull from the ground. Carrots should be bright orange (pale = immature). Clip tops to ¼” and remove dirt on root by dunking and scrubbing. Dry completely in a shaded area and place in a plastic bag. Garden Fork
Cauliflower When head begins to develop, gather outer leaves over the head and tie with string to preserve white curd color. Cut 6” below the base of the head when desired size is achieved and curds are still firm. Inspect for cabbageworm and frass. Place in a plastic bag. Knife
Chives Cut the chives leaves 2” above the soil level. Flowers rob the leaves of flavor; avoid harvesting when plant is flowering. Rinse in cold water and dry in a salad spinner. Place in a plastic bag. Pruning Shears
Cilantro & Parsley Cut the outer leaves near the base of the plant. The inner leaves will continue to grow. Harvest as needed. Rinse in cold water and dry in a salad spinner. Place in a plastic bag. Pruning Shears
Corn, Sweet When the silks extending out the tip of the ear turn brown and begin to dry, pull ears downward from the stalk. They will snap off. Hand
Cucumber When the cucumber has reached the desired length but before it begins to plump up, begin harvest. Cut the stem just above the point where it attaches to the cucumber. Harvest thoroughly and regularly to encourage extended production. Wipe harvested cucumbers clean with a cloth. Place in a plastic bag. Pruning Shears
Dill Leaves: cut leaves as needed before flowers begin to form. Place in a bag. Flower heads: Cut sprays as needed. Seeds: after flowers have turned into plump seeds, cut the seed heads and hang upside down in a paper bag until seeds dry and fall off. Place in a sealed container. Pruning Shears
Eggplant As the fruits reach mature size, look for a glossy sheen to its skin. (If it’s dull, it’s overripe.) Clip the woody stem about an inch from the fruit. Wipe the fruit clean with a cloth. Pruning Shears
Fennel Bulb: Before the plant sends up its seed stalk, cut off the bulb at soil level. Dunk in cold water, dry completely, and place in a plastic bag. For leaves or seeds, harvest as you would dill. Knife
Garlic Around the 4th of July, look for the bottom 2 or 3 leaves to have begun yellowing. Use a garden fork to undermine the garlic and loosen the soil. Pull, brush off clumps of soil, and dry in a dark, well ventilated location. Once stem is completely dry, brush off remaining dirt and clip the stem to ½” and the root hairs to ¼”. Garden Fork
Grape Not recommended for school gardens. When fully ripe, the whitish coating on the grape becomes apparent. Taste one for sweetness, and look for the seeds to have changed from green to brown. Place in a plastic bag. Hand
Ground Cherry Collect fallen fruits from around the base of the plant. Remove the papery husk to eat. Mature fruits are yellow. Hand
Kale & Collards When plants are about a foot tall, begin harvesting the outer leaves, leaving the smaller central leaves to size up. To harvest, grasp the stem of a leave and pull downward on it. It will snap off. Dunk in cold water, shake off excess water, and dry completely. Place in a plastic bag. Hand
Leeks & Scallions To blanch leeks, mound soil around the base of the plant. When stems have reached at least 1” diameter, undermine with a garden fork and pull leeks from the loosened ground. Remove dead leaves and dunk in cold water. Trim root hairs to ½” and cut leaves to 4” in fan shape. Dry completely and place in a plastic bag. Garden Fork
Lemon Verbena Cut sprigs from the plant as needed, cutting just above a set of leaves. Do not remove more than half the leaves. Pruning Shears
Lettuce, Head When the head is full and firm but before the weather turns warm, cut the head at ground level. Lettuce that has bolted is bitter. Remove dead leaves and dunk in cold water. Shake off excess water and dry in a salad spinner. Place in a plastic bag. Knife
Lettuce, Cutting When the lettuce is about 4” tall, cut the top 2” and leave the bottom 2” to regrow. In 1-2 weeks, repeat the process. Rinse in cold water and spin dry in a salad spinner. Place in a plastic bag. Knife
Melon, Rough Skinned The melon will slip from the vine when it is ripe. Also, look for the color to change, and sniff for a sweet aroma. Wipe fruit clean with a cloth. Hand
Melon, Smooth Skinned Locate the tendril nearest the point on the vine where the fruit stem attaches. When it is browning/dead, the melon is ripe. Cut the stem about an inch from the fruit. Wipe clean with a cloth. Pruning Shears
Mint Cut sprigs as needed just above a set of leaves. Place in a plastic bag. Pruning Shears
Okra Clip pods when they are 3-4” long. Harvest thoroughly and regularly to encourage extended production. Pruning Shears
Onion Not recommended for school gardens. When the onion tops have fallen over, pull the onions from the ground and sun-cure for at least a week before removing tops. Place in paper bags. Hand
Sugar Snap Pea When the peas have begun to plump inside the pod but before the pod becomes white and tough, pull from the vine. Place in a plastic bag. Harvest thoroughly and regularly to encourage extended production. Hand
Pepper Peppers begin green, then ripen to their true color. Cut the stem about 1” from the fruit. Wipe the fruit clean with a cloth. Pruning Shears
Popcorn When husks have dried and kernels are hard and glossy, pull ears from stalk. Husk and hang to dry for up to six weeks before storing. Hand
Potato After foliage has died back but before the first frost, dig potatoes from the ground. Spread potatoes in a cool, dark place to dry for 10 days before storing. Do not wash. Garden Fork
Radish & Turnip When roots are about 1” diameter, begin harvest. Grasp root and pull from ground. Turnips can reach larger diameters before harvest. Clip tops of radishes to ¼”. Remove dirt by dunking and scrubbing. Dry completely and place in a plastic bag. Hand
Raspberry Mature raspberries are firm, colorful, and removed easily from the canes. The white center portion should remain on the cane. Place in a shallow container (e.g. a half-pint container). Hand
Rhubarb Not recommended for school gardens. Beginning the third year, when the stalks have reached about 1’ in length, pull and slightly twist the stalks to remove. Harvest only a third of the plant at a time, and discontinue harvest by July 4, allowing it to grow undisturbed. Remove leaves, as they are poisonous. Rinse, dry, and place in a plastic bag. Hand
Rosemary Cut 9” sprigs as needed, removing no more than half the plant. Rinse if necessary and dry completely. Place in a plastic bag. Pruning Shears
Sage Remove sprigs about 8” long, cutting just above a set of leaves. Place in a plastic bag. Pruning Shears
Squash, Summer Summer squash is best when young and not plump. Cut stems about 1” from fruit. Be careful not to damage/scratch. Remove dead blossom and wipe skin clean with a cloth. Knife
Squash, Winter When stem is drying and skin is hardening but before a heavy frost, cut stems about 1” from fruit. Cure in sun for 1-2 weeks. Rind should be hard. Wipe off dirt with a clean cloth. Pruning Shears
Spinach Cut/pull the outer leaves near the base of the plant. Rinse in cold water and dry in a salad spinner. Place in a plastic bag. Hand, Knife
Strawberry Not recommended for school gardens. Only harvest beginning the second year. Pinch the stems of fully red berries (no green on their tips). Place in a shallow container. Hand
Sunflower When the back of the head of the sunflower yellows, cut the head off and dry it in a sheltered area until the back of the head is brown. Knife
Sweet Potato Before the first frost, identify the center of the plant and undermine, loosening the soil. Pull the sweet potatoes from the ground. Gently remove the vines from the roots. Cure in a warm, humid location for 2 weeks. Brush off remaining dirt. Garden Fork
Swiss Chard Cut the outer leaves near the base of the plant. Dunk in cold water, shake off excess water, and dry completely. Place in a plastic bag. Knife
Thyme Cut 6” sprigs as needed. Do not remove more than half the plant at a time. Flavor is diminished when the plant is in flower. Rinse if necessary. Dry completely and place in a plastic bag. Pruning Shears
Tomato When the shoulders of the plant near the stem have softened and the color has developed at the base, pull the tomato from the plant. Remove the calyx (the remaining green stem) and wipe the fruit clean with a cloth. Hand
Wheat When the wheat stalks are golden and the berries are doughy, use a knife to cut the stalks a few inches from the ground. Bundle them and allow them to dry in a sheltered area until wheat berries harden (about three weeks). Knife

Download a printable PDF: Harvesting