Allow fruit to ripen on the plant. If birds, rats or mice are enjoying your crop before it can fully mature, set traps for rodents and cover plants with netting to fend off the birds. Aim to leave the stem intact when picking tomatoes. Remove lower leaves to allow more light in to ripen fruit. Keep removing laterals and tying plants to stakes. The fruit does get rather heavy and the stems need help to carry all the fruit. Alternatively, pick tomatoes as the colour is turning and place in a sunny area, like on the windowsill, to ripen fully.
Courgettes are quick to grow and mature. Frequent picking will encourage more flowers, which equal a larger harvest and an extended cropping season. It will also prevent them from turning into marrows. If left on the plant, courgettes can easily become marrows within a week or two. To pick, use a sharp knife or snips and leave a piece of the stem on the courgette. A simple twist may separate the crop from the plant, but the risk is you may yank the plant out, roots and all.
Crisp fresh lettuce is a staple for many. When harvesting the heading and hearting lettuces, either remove the plant, roots and all, or slice off the plant from the roots and pull the root mass out later. To harvest perpetual or come again lettuces, simply pick leaf by leaf and leave the plant in the ground to regenerate. Cos lettuce and frilly types are ideal for regular harvesting keep the water up to the regenerating plants. The second crop of leaves is not normally as sweet as the first.
One of nature’s superfoods, broccoli is a go-to crop for many. Harvest while the head is tight and compact. As soon as the head starts to open, it is past its best. Cut the broccoli off just under the top leaves, leaving the stalk in the ground. New, smaller heads of broccoli will appear in a few weeks, below where the first one was, and continue to sprout for the rest of the season – another reason this vegetable is a staple, I daresay
As far as generosity goes, beans have to be near the top of the list. Once they begin to flower and crop, they continue to do so for months on end. The trick to ensuring an ongoing harvest is to pick the beans frequently. Small types like French and butter beans can easily be pinched off with your fingers, whereas the larger ones – broad and runner beans – may need a knife or scissors to harvest. Runner beans are tastiest before they get to wide and old, and broad beans are best when the pods are bright green (when they fade to a limey-yellow colour, the beans become tough and taste awful).
Spinach, Silver beet, Kale & Cavolo Nero
These leafy greens can all be harvested either leaf by leaf or by cutting the plant back to ground level. Spinach isn’t a long-lived crop, and it can quickly bolt and go to seed once the weather gets hot or if water is in short supply. The others will all continue to grow for up to six months, and will resprout from the base within a few weeks. With cavolo nero, remove the mid-rib once the leaves get a bit older, as they become sour and chewy. If tall stems appear on silver beet, it is going to set seed. Cut these hard back and new leaves will appear at the base.
Cauliflower & Cabbage
Cauli and cabbage are harvested in the same way. Cut the head off from the stem and remove the plant from the ground. However, recent plant breeding has seen the introduction of a new dwarf cauliflower variety called ‘Side Shooter’ that can be harvested like broccoli – leave the stem in the ground and new little miniature caulis will appear a week or two later.
These giant, fist-like vegetables are a foodie’s delight. Pick the heads before they get too big, to ensure the “choke” isn’t too woody and stringy. However, if you want to leave a few to fully develop and open into the giant-sized thistle blue flowers in a month or two, go for it. The bees love the flowers and they are highly ornamental.
The pea season is pretty much over once the hottest months arrive. However, you may be able to rejuvenate older plants by cutting them back to stimulate new growth and adding a layer of mulch to keep the roots cooler. Keep picking the pods as this stimulates more flowers and peas.