Pick summer squash when young for the best flavor and texture.
You've worked hard all spring to prepare the soil, plant seeds and transplants, water, weed, mulch, fertilize, and care for your plants. While you've spent lots of time caring for your vegetables, it's often a shame that many gardeners don't bring the same attention to harvesting. I've known some gardeners who toil growing the perfect crop, only to harvest at the wrong time or in the wrong way and have a crop that they don't enjoy.
Just like there's a right and wrong way to plant, weed, fertilize, and do other garden tasks, there's a right time and way to harvest
Picking your veggies at the right stage of maturity not only makes them more flavorful, but more nutritious too. Some vegetables have no flavor if picked too early and others are tough and stringy if allowed get overly ripe. While the goal is to pick your vegetables when they're young and tender, a spell of warm weather while you're away for the weekend may mean zucchini clubs and pithy beets await when you return.
Harvest potatoes when the tops start to dieback. Dig carefully so not to injure the underground tubers.
It's best to harvest daily, if possible. Young greens, such as lettuce, mesclun, kale, mustard, and Swiss chard can be picked as soon as they are large enough to eat. Vegetables such as bush beans, summer squash, cucumbers, and broccoli will keep producing after the initial harvest, providing food for weeks.
Below is a chart adapted from my Vegetable Gardening for Dummies book on the best harvest times for vegetables. I call it the Harvest Table. While the guidelines are based on picking vegetables at the mature stage, you can pick many vegetables such as beets, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, peas, potatoes, and summer squash as "baby" vegetables as well.
|Vegetable||When to Harvest|
|Asparagus||When spears are 6 to 9 inches long|
|Bush bean||Start about 2 to 3 weeks after bloom, before seeds mature in pods|
|Beet||When 1 to 3 inches wide|
|Broccoli||When flower heads are tight and green|
|Brussels sprouts||When sprouts reach 1 inch wide|
|Cabbage||When heads are compact and firm|
|Carrot||When tops are 1 inch wide|
|Cauliflower||When heads are still white but not ricey (the florets are splitting apart)|
|Corn||When silks are dry and brown; kernels should be milky when cut|
|Cucumber||For slicing, when 6 inches long; for picklers, when at least 2 inches long|
|Eggplant||Before color dulls; flesh should bounce back when pressed lightly|
|Garlic||Pull up stalks when bottom leaves yellow|
|Kohlrabi||When 2 to 3 inches wide|
|Leek||When the stalks are at least 1 1/2 inches in diameter|
|Lettuce and Greens||While leaves are tender|
|Melon||When fruits slips off vine easily; while netting (raised area on skin) is even; when fruit is firm|
|Okra||When pods are soft and 2 to 3 inches long|
|Parsnip||When roots reach desired size. Best after a light frost|
|Pea||While pods are still tender|
|Pepper||When fruits reach desired size and color|
|Potato||When vines begin to die back|
|Pumpkin||When shells harden, before a frost|
|Radish||When roots are up to 1 1/4 inches wide|
|Shallot||When tops wither and turn brown|
|Spinach||When leaves are still tender|
|Summer Squash||When 6 to 8 inches long|
|Winter Squash||When shells harden; before a frost|
|Sweet Potato||When they reach adequate size; before a frost|
|Tomato||When the right color develops per variety|
|Turnip||When 2 to 3 inches wide|
|Watermelon||When under side turns yellow and produces a dull sound when thumped|
By keeping up with the harvest of veggies such as cucumbers, you'll stimulate the plant to produce more fruit.