This past week I accidentally purchased a rotting cantaloupe from a local Farmer’s Market then witnessed several folks sharing overgrown, tough, inedible produce from their garden. It does not have to be like that.

Growing your own produce is fulfilling and rewarding. Yes, it is hard work, but there is nothing so gratifying as growing your own food from seeds or transplants. Not only does it feel better than purchasing produce from the grocery store, but as all home gardeners know, it tastes better as well. It also saves you money and saves fuel costs. And more importantly, you know exactly where it has been, who has handled it, what fertilizer was used on it, and what pesticides have been sprayed on it.

But many beginning gardeners do not know when to pick their produce and frequently let it grow too large and tough, let their beans get tough and stringy, or let their broccoli turn into bouquets of yellow flowers.

Knowing when to pick, and how to store your produce is an important key in enjoying and eating it. As a general rule, all produce should be harvested early in the morning when it is crisp and full of water. Nobody likes limp vegetables. It is also critical that you not damage your produce when picking or digging it. Every wound or scar is a point of entry for fruit rotting diseases, not to mention an aesthetic blemish. It is always a good idea to eat or process the damaged produce immediately and store the good-looking ones. Most tender vegetables require high humidity and low temperatures for optimum storage conditions. It is best to put them in plastic bags and into the refrigerator or crisper as soon as possible after picking to ensure freshness and flavor. A few vegetables like Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, winter squash, and onions are best stored dry at moderately cool temperatures to prevent them from rotting. And for Heaven’s sake, remember that most vegetables are more tender and better tasting when picked on the small side instead of tough-skinned jumbos. Giant cucumbers and zucchinis are not palatable and should be discarded or fed to somebody’s horse. The reason shoppers pay premium prices for baby vegetables is they are the highest quality.

For more information on how and when to harvest each crop see the Texas A&M AgriLife Easy Gardening fact sheet on harvesting, handling, and storing veggies on the Aggie Horticulture website.