Harvesting vegetables checklist

Information sheet

A simple guide to help distinguish when vegetables are ready to harvest. 

  • School term: All year round
  • Level of experience: No experience needed
  • Subject(s):

Beans and Peas

Broad Beans (20 – 26 weeks from sowing to harvest)

Pick pods when they are 7.5cm (3in) long and cook them whole. When picking pods to shell, wait until the beans are visible through the pod, but don't leave them too long. The scar on the bean should still be white or green not black, as the beans will be as tough as leather at this stage.

French Beans (9 weeks onwards)

Pick the pods when they are 10cm (4in) long. Pods are ready when they snap easily and before the beans can be seen through the pod. By picking regularly you can crop plants for several weeks. 

Peas (12 weeks onwards)

Pods are ready to harvest when they are well filled, test a pod and see what size the peas are inside. Don’t leave it until the pods are thick, as the peas turn to starch.  Mangetout and sugar snaps peas should be picked when the pods are about 7.5cm (3in) long, just as the peas are starting to develop.

Pick peas by hand, hold the plant with one hand, and hold the pod with the other hand, gently tugging the pod downwards. Alternatively cut pods off with scissors. Leave beans / peas in the pods to keep fresh until you want to use them.


Potatoes (20 weeks plus)

First early potatoes should be ready to lift in June and July, second earlies in July and August, main crops from late August through October. With earlies the tubers are ready to harvest when they are the size of hens' eggs. Scratch around the base of the plant to uncover the size of a potato. With main crops for storage wait until the foliage turns yellow, then cut it and remove it. Leave for 10 days before harvesting the tubers.

Use a fork to dig up the potatoes taking care to loosen the soil to one side of the potato plants. Watering the crop before lifting can help make digging easier. Leave the potatoes in the open to dry for a few hours before storing.

Alliums (Onions/ Leeks /Garlic)

Onions (20 weeks, longer if autumn planted)

Harvest when the foliage turns yellow and starts to topple over, usually in June – August.
Carefully lift with a garden fork. Those for storage must be firm, disease-free and then dried for two to three weeks, either laid out in the sun or in a shed if the weather is wet.

Leeks (29 – 34 weeks)

Start lifting when the leeks are still quite small to ensure a long harvest period. Leeks can remain in the ground through the winter until they are needed. Harvest before they start to form flowers in early spring.
Gently lift from the soil using a fork.

Garlic (32 weeks plus)

Leaves can be gathered green and used as a garnish or in salads, but the bulbs are harvested once the leaves have turned yellow in Late June and July.
Carefully lift them with a fork or hand fork. Lay out the bulbs to dry in an airy place. When papery dry they can be plaited and hung up or stored in ventilated containers until needed.

Leafy crops

Chard / Spinach (6 – 12 weeks) 

Cut off the outer leaves when they are young and tender, working towards the centre. Don't wait until they reach maximum size. Harvest leaves regularly to ensure a constant supply of tender re-growth.
Use scissors and plastic bags to collect the leaves directly into to stop them from wilting. Gather mini-leaves as soon as they are usable. They should re-grow if a small stump is left.

Lettuce (9 – 13 weeks for whole lettuce, 4 – 6 weeks for salad leaves)

Lettuce is ready to cut when a firm heart has formed. If salad leaves are preferred then pick when the leaves are 5 to 10cms tall.
Harvest lettuces by cutting rather than pulling. Use scissors to cut small salad leaves.

Root Vegetables

Beetroot (9 - 13 weeks)

Start harvesting when the size of golf ball, leaving others to grow on to size of cricket ball.
Carefully pull up by hand every other golf ball sized beetroot to allow the ones left to grow on.

Carrots (12 - 14 weeks)

Start to harvest after 12 weeks when carrot roots will be of a useful size – better to eat them as small and tender roots than wait until September when they will be larger but not as sweet!
Water the soil well to make pulling the roots easier. Use a fork to loosen the soil to one side of the carrot plant then gently pull up the roots.

Radish (4 - 6 weeks)

The roots are round and swollen to between 2 and 3cms in diametre – better to eat them small and juicy than large and woody.
Pull up the roots by hand. Make sure the seed is sown thinly so roots have room to swell. 


Courgette (9 weeks onwards)

Harvest courgettes when 10-12.5cm (4-5in) long. Regularly picking courgettes while they are small will ensure a long cropping period.
Use scissors or a knife and cut at the base of the courgette stalk.

Pumpkin / Squash (12 weeks plus)

The plant will continue to grow well into September until colder nights will wither the leaves. Let the fruit mature on the plant and remove before the first proper frost strikes – usually end of September. Tap, if it sounds hollow then ready to harvest.
Cut the fruit from the stem, but usually it has withered. Store in a frost free shed.

In the school garden it may be necessary to harvest vegetables before the summer holidays if there is no-one to water and harvest during this period. If this is the case vegetables may be smaller than if they are left to grow and harvested after the holidays.

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