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How to Get the Most Out of Your Fall Harvest

Fall is a time of leaves, pumpkin spice lattes—and overflowing vegetable gardens. Pumpkins, potatoes, onions, apples, broccoli, cauliflower and other fall favorites all come in season in fall, and if you have a lot of these plants growing in your garden, you may be a little overwhelmed by your yummy autumn bounty.

Fall garden harvest

We put together this fall harvest guide to help you get the most out of your vegetable garden this season—when to pick and how to store your vegetables so you can get the most enjoyment out of them. And if you’ve really got squash coming out your ears, we’ve got suggestions for using your fall harvest to Do Green. Do Good.

When to Harvest Your Veggies

Pumpkins and other fall vegetables

To get vegetables with the best flavor, it’s important to harvest them at the right time. Here are some signs that your favorite veggies are at their freshest:

Broccoli: When the central crown is about 4 inches across.

Carrots: When the tops of the carrots start to poke out of the ground.

Onions: When the leaves start to tip over.

Potatoes: When the vines turn brown and start to wither.

Salad Greens: When the leaves are about 4 inches tall. (Then they’ll grow back, and you can harvest again!)

Winter Squash (including pumpkins): When the shells are hard enough to stand up to your thumbnail.

Tips courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens.

When you’re harvesting your vegetables, handle them gently. The less they’re handled, the better they’ll keep.

How to Store Your Veggies

Storing a fall vegetable

Different vegetables need different temperature and moisture levels to stay fresh—which means some vegetables will stay better in your fridge better than others. The University of Minnesota Extension has a handy chart on how to store common garden vegetables.

Some key storage tips:

  • Onions and garlic that like cold, dry conditions will last in the refrigerator the longest.
  • The basement is a good spot for vegetables, like pumpkins and winter squash, that prefer cool, dry conditions.
  • To help vegetables that like moist environments last longer in your fridge, put them in a perforated bag.

Another way to keep your fall veggies around longer is canning. Both carrots and turnips can be pressure canned. You can also pickle cauliflower and carrots to make a relish.

Do Green. Do Good with Your Harvest

Sharing fall vegetables

If you’ve got a good green thumb and a shortage of storage space, you may find yourself with more veggies on your hands than you can handle.

Donating your surplus veggies to a food pantry is a great way to Do Green. Do Good. with your extra harvest. is a great website you can use to find a food pantry near you that accepts fresh produce. Just type in your zip code, and you’ll get a list of food pantries that would love your veggies.

You should call ahead to confirm that the food pantry can take your veggies that day so your bounty doesn’t go to waste. You also want to pick your vegetables the same day that you bring them to the food pantry so they stay fresh as long as possible.

Want more gardening tips, along with the latest news about the 2014 Chicago Flower and Garden Show? Like our Facebook page and sign up for our newsletter at (scroll down to find the sign-up box).

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