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GROWING TOGETHER: When to harvest mid-summer garden produce

Don Kinzler, gardening columnist

FARGO — You know you're a dyed-in-the-wool gardener if, when picking cucumbers, you triple check beneath every leaf so not a single cuke is left to over ripen. And when others are helping, you double check their work because they might not be thorough.

You know you've got a case of gardening fever when you stay up half the night blanching broccoli that was at the perfect stage for picking, because tomorrow might be too late.

Harvests of early season radishes, lettuce, peas and spinach are well underway or possibly over for early bird gardeners. But mid-summer onward is a highpoint for many vegetables.

Here are tips for knowing when to harvest.

• Snap beans (also called green beans or string beans) are best picked when pods are full-size, but before the seeds inside begin to bulge. They should snap easily, and harvesting young and tender is best.

• Beets can be used as soon as the bulbous root enlarges to an inch or two in diameter, or left longer for larger beets about three inches in diameter.

• Broccoli is best cut when heads are full-sized, but before the florets open into yellow flowers. There's nothing wrong with eating flowered-out broccoli, but younger is more tender and tasty.

• Cabbage is prime for harvest if heads feel solid when squeezed. Heads can split open if they're ready to harvest and rain comes.

• Carrot sampling can begin as soon as roots reach baby-carrot size. Delay the main harvest until fall, when cool temperatures trigger sugar buildup, making carrots sweeter.

• Cauliflower can be cut when heads are large, but still tight, white and tender. When the newly forming head is silver dollar-sized, bring the outer leaves of the plant upward and tie together to shade the cauliflower head, which keeps it white and tender. Cream-colored and purple cauliflower varieties don't require tying up.

• Sweet corn is ready when silks at the ear's tip are brown and dry, and a punctured kernel exudes milky juice instead of watery. Harvest by pulling ears downward until they detach.

• Cucumber quality is best when fruits are six to eight inches long and bright shiny green. Tread carefully among cucumber vines and harvest gently to avoid damaging stems, which can lessen future production.

• Eggplant is best picked when fruits are shiny, dark purple, and four to six inches long, with a tender skin easily puncture with a thumbnail.

• Onion harvest can begin as early as bulbs form, or left in the garden until tops fall over and dry.

• Peppers are useable when small, but are best left until they reach the size typical for their type. Most peppers eventually turn yellow or red if left on the plant long enough, and quality is good at that stage also.

• Potatoes can be sampled early with the main crop dug after vines die.

• Summer Squash including zucchini are prime quality when six or eight inches long, and the tender skin is easily punctured with a thumbnail.

• Tomato ripeness is an individual preference. Some gardeners prefer to pick at full red-ripe stage, while others harvest a day or two earlier when tomatoes are firm-red.

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