Homegrown Vegetables, Pick ‘Em at Their Peak

Sometimes when there is a lot of work to do in the vegetable garden, and it’s hot, and I’m tired, an old question comes to mind.

Is it worthwhile, in this day of supermarkets and “pre-packaged everything,” to grow your vegetables?

Pick at PeakPin

Then I come to my senses and remember that no market—super or otherwise—can match my garden in two priceless qualities. These are quality and freshness. No one can duplicate these.

Part of the quality problem has been taken care of in selecting varieties, but even the best vegetables can be ruined if they are not picked at the peak of their quality and tenderness. Unfortunately, this is where too many gardeners lose much they have labored to gain.

Corn Is A Major Case In Point

With us, it is watched closely, and just as soon as the “milk” runs freely, even though the kernels are not fully colored, it is picked. From the stalk to the pot in not more than 20 minutes is our aim. 

When we have lots of guests, and the schedule is jammed, however, we stretch this to a couple of hours by stacking the unhusked ears in the shade and covering them with wet burlap until the last possible minute. Then we husk and pop it into rapidly boiling water.

And please! Don’t overcook it. Long cooking will make the tenderest kernels tough. Some cook corn for as little as three minutes, but I prefer about five or six.

Modern snap beans have been tailor-made to have no strings. Yet it is still necessary to pick them before the beans have grown enough to cause bulges in the pods.

Summer Squash

Summer Squash, either the yellow kind or zucchini, is at its melting best when quite small, that is, from 4” to 6” inches long. At that stage, they can be cooked, with seeds and all. 

Many more modern kinds are still excellent when larger, but the seeds should be removed here. In any event, they should never be allowed to develop to the point where a fingernail will not prick the skin quite readily.


Broccoli is a big favorite at our house, and there are three choices here. First, with the early crop, we pick when the heads are just barely developed. 

If some heads get oversized before being cut, we pop them in the freezer for a day. This helps break down the fiber and makes them tender and sweeter.

Carrots and Beets

As for carrots and beets, plant more than you think you can use and then use them when they are still babies. 

Little carrots (O- to one-inch in diameter) split lengthwise and lightly sauteed in butter are hard to beat. With the beets, take them when they are about an inch in diameter and cook them tops and all.


With peppers, pick the first fruits before they are fully developed. This isn’t for any special flavor but to ensure heavy production during the rest of the season.

Tomatoes and Parsnips

With tomatoes and parsnips, the situation is just the reverse of all that has been said above. Leave them until the last possible minute.

Fully vine-ripened tomatoes (like strawberries and grapes) have a goodness that cannot be matched.

As for parsnips, many people don’t like parsnips because they don’t know how they should and can taste. So they dig them early and dislike the starchy flavor. That is natural, for it isn’t particularly appealing. 

No parsnips should ever be dug until they have been frozen and thawed several times. The reason is simple. The physical effect of freezing ruptures the starch cells. When the roots thaw, enzymes break down the starch into sugar. 

The sweetness of March-dug parsnips is a far cry from the pallid flavor of those dug in October. Try it and see if you don’t agree with me.

Gaining added quality and tenderness adds up to big benefits. Yet the procedures for obtaining them are simple and require no added work.

44659 by Dr. Fred J. Nisbet