Handling and timing tips for 5 common types of produce

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Most summer vegetable crops reach their peak of maturity by early autumn, and it's critical to harvest at the right time to ensure high quality produce.

It is best to harvest crops when the weather is dry, preferably during the later part of the day after any morning dew has evaporated. Physical damage to the skin of produce should be avoided when harvesting, as it can diminish storage quality and lead to decay issues. Additionally, using a sharp knife to sever the stalks of vegetables that are tough to harvest by hand minimizes accidental tearing of stem ends.

Here's a look at how best to harvest five common types of produce grown in Wisconsin.

Tomatoes: Fruits that are fully ripe and colored can be harvested for eating, juicing and canning. Mature tomatoes that have growth cracks on the top should be harvested when they turn partially pink, between 30 and 60 percent in color, and stored indoors at normal room temperature for about six days to reach their full hue. Before frost strikes, mature green tomatoes should be harvested and stored indoors for ripening.

Sweet potatoes: Tubers can be harvested just before the first frost. Beginning late August, fertilization and watering should be discontinued to stress the sweet potato vines This process helps in translocating the starch from the vine to the tubers. Using a garden fork to carefully uproot the sweet potatoes can minimize bruising. Harvested sweet potatoes can be stored indoors at normal room temperature for about 2-3 weeks.

Pumpkins and winter squash: Squash fruits begin to mature from September through October. The fruit reach full maturity and are ready for harvesting when the outer rind becomes hard and waxy with a uniform deep solid color. To test the firmness of the rind, fingernail pressure should be gently applied to check the resistance of the fruit.

Bell peppers: Green bell peppers are harvested when the mature fruits reach a fully grown size of about 3-4 inches long, are firm and tend to break easily from the plant. Depending on the weather conditions in autumn, bell peppers that are other colors can take a while to develop the red, orange or yellow hues of the ripe stage.

Sweet corn: Ears should be harvested about 21 days after silky strands appear, when kernels are fully formed and milky. Other harvest indicators for sweet corn are browning of the silks and kernels that are fully formed at the tips of ears.

Different types of produce require specific storage conditions in terms of temperature, moisture, light and ventilation. Given appropriate practices, many crops harvested in fall can be stored for long periods while preserving their quality.

What about extra produce? Have pounds of peppers? Tons of tomatoes? Many local food banks, community gardens and other organizations accept fresh produce donations and have need for more vegetables to help people in need of nutritious and fresh food.

This article was originally published on WisContext, which produced the article in a partnership between Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television and Cooperative Extension.

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