Nothing is quite as tasty as vegetables grown in your own garden. Follow these guidelines to make the most of your home-grown produce.
Step 1: Do some research Research your vegetables. Check a gardening book or web site for the specific harvest times or sizes for your garden's particular vegetables.
TIP: Consult your local agricultural extension service to get detailed information on growing seasons in your area.
Step 2: Check leafy vegetables Check leafy vegetables for color, size, and tenderness. Chard, spinach, collard greens, kale, and leaf lettuce can all be harvested a few leaves at a time.
TIP: Pick leafy vegetables early in the morning to preserve freshness.
Step 3: Check cabbage-type vegetables Harvest cabbage and Brussels sprouts when the heads are firm and solid; harvest broccoli while the heads are still tight and green, and cauliflower while tight and white.
Step 4: Check legumes Harvest peas and lima beans when the seeds are plump but not hard; green or snap beans should be harvested when the seeds are one-quarter size; and edible pea pods before the seeds reach one-half size.
Step 5: Check root vegetables Harvest beets, carrots, and turnips when they grow to a 1-inch diameter; and onions and radishes at a ½-inch diameter. Potatoes and sweet potatoes can be dug up as soon as the plant yellows, but leave parsnips in the ground for several moderate freezes.
TIP: Don't wait until you can see the tops of root vegetables growing out of the soil -- they may have passed peak tenderness by the time you can see them.
Step 6: Check vine vegetables Harvest summer squash and cucumbers when they are smaller than 6 inches. Harvest winter squashes and pumpkins when their skins darken and they become firm enough to resist your fingernail.
Step 7: Check other vegetables for size and appearence Harvest asparagus and celery when they reach 6 to 10 inches in height; harvest tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant when they reach full color. Harvest sweet corn when kernels are soft and produce a milky liquid when they are crushed with a fingernail.
Step 8: Clean, prepare, and enjoy Clean, prepare, and enjoy your vegetables. Not only will you get the freshest taste, you'll have the satisfaction of having grown them yourself.
FACT: An estimated 43 million American households planned to grow their own food in 2009, up 19 percent from the year before.