So, you decided to grow an indoor garden. Bravo! You’ve put fragrant, flavorful ingredients right at your fingertips—even in the depths of winter. Now you just need to make sure this highly convenient at-home produce section keeps on, well, producing. The best way to do that? Harvest like a pro. Whether your plants are growing in a hydroponic system or in pots on a sunny windowsill, you can encourage them to keep on growing by knowing the right way to harvest. Let these expert tips guide you once your indoor garden is ready.
How to Harvest Herbs
The key to encouraging herb growth is to pinch or snip any flowers as soon as you see them. Flowers are a sign of maturity and a signal to the plant that it’s time to turn energy toward reproduction—and away from producing tasty leaves.
With all herbs, harvest often to encourage bushy growth. For herbs like mint, basil, cilantro, and dill, snip a few inches from the top of each stem, cutting right above a set of leaves. You can also harvest full stems from the outside of the plant by cutting a half-inch above the plant’s base. For herbs like oregano, parsley, sage, and thyme, choose long stems with few leaves. Snip chives at the base of the plant, about an inch above the soil. With sage and mint, you can also skip the cutting and simply pinch off individual leaves.
If you don’t use your herbs while cooking, store them in an airtight container for up to a week in the fridge to keep them fresh. Or, try drying your herbs—it’s super-easy and in addition to cooking, if you pop them in a sachet, you can utilize their fragrance in other parts of the house.
How to Harvest Greens
When it comes to greens, there are two rules of thumb: Never harvest more than 1/3 of your plant in one go, and always use a clean, sharp pair of kitchen shears or scissors so you can make a precise, quick-healing cut. This speeds your plant’s recovery and encourages even more growth—or, what we call a win-win.
Remember, good things come to those who wait. Harvesting greens too early can slow future growth. Those first leaves are working hard to absorb light, which helps to grow sturdy, supportive stems and lots more leaves. So, wait to pick your greens until your plant is at least 4 to 6 inches tall.
Then, harvest greens from the outside. This is where the older leaves are, leaving the younger inner leaves to keep on growing. Be sure to harvest bottom leaves before upper leaves, and know that smaller leaves tend to be more flavorful, more tender, and less bitter than larger ones. Eat them immediately or store your greens in a loose plastic bag for up to 10 days in the fridge.
How to Harvest Microgreens
Microgreens are actually harvested as seedlings, making them as cute as they are nutritious. They’re usually ready to harvest 1 to 3 weeks after germination (depending on the variety), once they’re a few inches tall and have developed true leaves. The set of super-smooth “leaves” you see growing first are cotyledons, which are edible, but don’t have as much flavor as the true leaves that develop after them.
Once ready, cut microgreen stems and leaves at the soil line. If you’re not going to eat them straight away, keep your microgreens fresh in the fridge (for up to a week) but wait to wash them until they’re needed on your dinner plate.
How to Harvest Carrots & Radishes
When your veggies are buried below the surface, it’s not always obvious they’re ready. Keep an eye on your carrots and radishes, and harvest them when you see their shoulders poking out of the potting mix. Loosen up the soil with your hands or a trowel, and then gently pull each vegetable out.
Remove the tops before scrubbing your veggies clean and storing them in the crisper. The leafy tops steal moisture from carrots and radishes when still attached, causing them to go bad more quickly. But, there is a silver lining! The greens are edible and make for a delicious addition to soups or salads. Just store them separately and use them within 3 days of harvesting.
How to Harvest Tomatoes and Peppers
Snip tomatoes and peppers from their compact plants once they’ve reached a rich shade of the desired colour (like red, yellow, or orange). Tomatoes’ flavor increases as they ripen on the vine, so take advantage of their proximity indoors and try to harvest right before you use them. They should be firm but slightly soft if you give them a gentle squeeze. If you pick more than you use, keep them on your counter (never the refrigerator) for 2 to 3 days.
Leave a small bit of stem attached to your peppers to keep them fresher, longer. (Also, know that the longer a hot pepper stays on the plant, the spicier it becomes!) Once ready, pop them in your mouth or store them in a plastic container or bag in the fridge for 7 to 10 days.
When you grow your own produce indoors, garden-fresh taste is just a few snips away. So get ready to serve up a homegrown salad, stir some fresh flavors into your favourite soup, or preserve your go-to cooking herbs by drying or freezing—the choice is yours. Bon appétit!