Hopefully by this point in the summer you have plenty of fresh vegetables and herbs overflowing your garden. There can be some confusion on how to properly care for these vegetables as far as whether or not to refrigerate and even when to pick them. Here is a simple guide to harvesting and storing the most common garden vegetables.
Allow the cucumbers to grow to 6-7 inches in length. Any longer and the texture and flavor will be affected. Cut them carefully about a quarter inch above the stem as they are ready. Harvesting the vegetable regularly will ensure a higher yield. If you happen to miss a few or they begin to yellow and go past their maturity, you can recycle them in your garden compost or simply dig a hole in your garden and stick them in! Cucumbers are best when eaten fresh and stored in a cool, dark place in your kitchen away from a window. They can be stored in the refrigerator for 3 or so days after a few days at room temperature. Contrary to popular belief, the best spot would be the top shelf in your fridge as this is the warmest spot. Cucumbers subjected to too cold temperatures are at risk for accelerated decay and water-soaked injuries. Cucumbers are also sensitive to ethylene gas, which is put off by some ripening fruits and vegetables. So for longest storage, don’t keep your cukes near melons, tomatoes or bananas.
Tomatoes will continue to ripen after they have been picked. They should be stored at room temperature and not in the refrigerator. A tomato needs warmth to continue to ripen, not sunlight. So despite popular belief, they do not need to be placed on a window sill directly to ripen. You can set them in a bowl near a window on the counter. Remember, determinate tomato varieties will bear their fruit all at once, usually within a two week period. I will be making a sauce to share with you once my romas are in, which is a wonderful way to store tomatoes long term. Indeterminate varieties, such a my Sungolds, will ripen all season long. Small cherry tomatoes will crack and rot quickly if left on the vine too long. So be sure to check your smaller tomatoes daily to see what needs to be picked. A tomato is ready to be priced if it’s color is uniform and it has turned red. They should be a tiny bit soft when squeezed as well.
Harvest when they reach desired size-usually about 4 inches but still green. If left to ripen, they may also turn red, yellow, orange depending on the origin and will be a sweeter pepper. Green peppers should be stored at room temperature and can also be frozen to store for later use. They do not need to be blanched before freezing. Simply cut them, remove seeds and slice into strips. Place on a baking sheet and put them in the freezer for about an hour. After an hour, remove the peppers and place in a freezer bag. Tip-you can also freeze strawberries this way!
I am growing jalapenos and I cut them when they reach about 1.5 -2 inches and are a nice dark green. You can also freeze hot peppers for later use! No need to cut or chop before freezing. Simply place in a freezer bag and store.
The optimal size to cut your zucchini is between 6-8 inches. You will need to cut off with a knife or scissors. The storage guidelines for zucchini are the same as a cucumber. Best stored at room temperature in a cool dark place and used within a few days. If you need to extend the life they can be refrigerated on the top shelf. Don’t wash until just before using. Zucchini can also be frozen! Cut into one inch thick slices and store in a freezer bag.
The skin should be a nice glossy color when cutting and it should be a bit larger than the size of your hand. When I think the eggplant is close to being ready to pick, I keep a close eye on it for a few days. If it doesn’t seem to be getting any larger, this is a good indication it has reached maturity. Eggplant is best stored at room temperature as well but will perish quickly, usually within two days. Some people recommend putting it in the refrigerator to extend its life 5-7 days. However, there is conflicting information that says if it is stored below 50 degrees, the texture and taste will be affected. I personally have never refrigerated my eggplant but right now I have two so I think I will experiment and keep one out in a bowl, and the other stored in the fridge. I will update with the results! Picking an eggplant too early or too late will lead to a bitter tasting fruit. Pay attention to the seeds after cutting. Eggplant that exhibits no seeds is under ripe, and one that shows dark seeds is overripe.
Stay tuned for a post on how to cut and store herbs! In the meantime, check out some of my garden recipes and enjoy the fruits of your labor!