Smith County Horticulturist
You planted your vegetable patch this spring and the first fruits of your harvest are ready for picking. All your hard work of cultivating, planting, watering, fertilizing and waiting is now paying off as everything begins to mature.
But, how do you know whenyour corn, melons, peppers and eggplant are ready to eat?
Here are some tips for reaping the highest quality rewards of your labor.
Open the husk and press your thumbnail into a kernel. If it easily squirts out milky, white juice, you're ready to eat.
Snap off the ear by pulling it downward and twisting at the same time. Have the water boiling while you are harvesting to enjoy sweet corn at the peak of quality. If, for some unfortunate reason, you cannot partake immediately, refrigerate the corn, husk intact, in a plastic bag.
Finally, don't ruin everything by overcooking your corn. Boil for only three to four minutes, and enjoy with salt and butter!
If you are a fastidious record keeper and know when pollination took place, count 45 days and the melon should be ripe.
Check the ground spot, the side of the melon resting on the ground - it should be creamy yellow. This will be more apparent on dark green melons. The overall appearance should be dull rather than slick. Check the tendril or tail nearest the melon. It should be dried and brown, though browning can occur up to a week before the melon is ripe. Most feel thumping is not a reliable indicator of maturity, but thumpers listen for a hollow, dull thud rather than a ringing sound.
The skin should be shiny, not dull, and spring back when gently pressed with your thumb, leaving only a slight depression.
It takes about 70 to 90 days after transplanting before harvest. Cut fruit with a sharp knife since it is easy to damage the plant when pulling them off.
Bitterness is the result of fruit maturing during high temperatures with low soil moisture.
Like eggplants, cut rather than pull peppers to avoid damaging the brittle plants.
This little bit of knowledge can give you a jump on hungry squirrels, birds and other critters that have been eying your crop, waiting for them to turn a little more red.
Another harvest tip is to store tomatoes at room temperature, not in the refrigerator.
Research shows that tomatoes lose much of their flavor and sweetness when stored cold.
Zucchini should be 6 to 8 inches long, yellow squash 4 to 6 inches long, and scallop squash 2 to 4 inches in diameter.
Winter squash, like the acorn and butternut varieties, are harvested for longer storage when they are fully mature, which for some types may be up to 100 days after planting.
Their skins will be hard and can't be scratched with your fingernail. Cut them off the plant, leaving the stem attached, and store them in a cool spot, and you'll be enjoying your harvest for several months to come.
The Tyler farmer's market, in the southwest parking lot of Broadway Square Mall (off Old Bullard Road.), is open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday through Aug. 30.
Keith Hansen is the Smith County Horticulturist with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service. His web page is EastTexasGardening.tamu.edu His Blog is http://agrilife.org/etg Texas AgriLife.