What’s Growing On: Harvesting your crop

(David Holifield photo/Unsplash) A bundle of freshly picked carrots.

Autumn has arrived and your crops are ready to harvest.

Of course they are not all ready at the same time (thank goodness), so you’ll harvest them at the appropriate time. Let’s take a look at several groups.


Actually, most beans will probably have been picked already, unless you planted them in July or August. Ensure that you pick the beans before the actual beans show as bumps through the pods, otherwise what you eat will be quite hard. Make sure you get your fill of fresh beans with meals before you have to preserve them for the winter. Some years, beans will start flowering again and you may get a second crop. Don’t pull those plants too soon.


You can deal with broccoli and cauliflower much the same way. Make sure you harvest them before the florets begin to separate and they should be great for fresh eating. Some broccoli varieties, including those called broccolinis, will produce small side florets right through into fall, so you get a steady harvest of broccoli. Cauliflower will produce one main head and that’s all. Be sure to harvest it while the head is tight and clean. Take a close look for cabbage worms (those are the green caterpillars). The best way to remove them is to soak the head in your sink in salt water; the worms should float out.

Brussels sprouts can be harvested in late autumn. The sprouts form in the nodes of each leaf and should, in a good year, achieve the size of a golf ball. Simply pop them off, remove one or two of the outer leaves on the sprout, and they are good to keep.

Late cabbages can be harvested when they reach a good size (which varies considerably among types). Try to get them before they split; this splitting can be caused by heavy rainfall. Cut below the cabbage ball with a sharp knife. Remove the outer papery or damaged leaves. Remove all slugs and snails.

Root crops

This title covers a lot of ground: carrots, onions, potatoes, beets, turnip.

Let’s start with carrots. Pull your carrots at the size you prefer. It’s easier to harvest them after a rain, when the soil around them is softer, otherwise some of them may break when pulled. Some people prefer to dig them with a shovel. They can be cleaned, but don’t wash them.

Dig your potatoes (which are technically swollen underground stems) when the tops are starting to die (or take some of them earlier if you want “new potatoes”). Make sure you go out in all directions from the stems to get all the potatoes. Note: if some of the potatoes have green on them because they formed at the surface and were exposed to sunlight, use those potatoes first and cut the green off because that part of the potato contains high levels of bitter alkaloids. If you miss some small potatoes, they may survive the winter and will become “volunteers” in places you may not want them. Clean them off but keep them dry and in a dark place.

Beets can be pulled when they are the proper size for you. The same goes for turnips (rutabagas).

Parsnips should be dug as late as possible, preferably after a couple of hard frosts. I did say “dig” because if you try to pull parsnips, they will inevitably break. They are the deepest-rooted of the root crops. Some people leave them out all winter and get them in the spring before they start growing and produce flowers. The longer you leave them, the sweeter they will get.

Onions can be pulled when the tops are dying or have died. They will need to be placed in a room with good ventilation to have the tops dry completely. This usually takes two to three weeks, after which time you can cut the tops off just above the bulb. You will know if you haven’t waited long enough for them to dry if you feel the place where you cut and it is still wet. Let those dry for another week or two. If you want fresh onions, you can use them immediately.

A crop that you will harvest late is leeks; they will easily survive frosts, especially the “late” varieties. If they are very tall, you may have to cut down the tops of the plant. You are not going to use that part of the leek anyway, and they will be more manageable in the house.

Finally, keep harvesting on a regular basis your chard and kale. Kale will last well into winter and chard can be frozen for winter use. It doesn’t need cooking and blanching in ice water. Just freeze the leaves whole.

Our next column will tell you how to store these crops to get maximum use from them all winter.

By-the-Sea Gardeners is a community group that provides a forum for gardeners in the Saint Andrews area to share their interest and enthusiasm in gardening. To learn more about us, follow By the Sea Gardeners Club – St. Andrews on Facebook. Contact: Richard Tarn, 506-529-3110, or Mike Hutton, 506-529-3629.