Harvest Size, Colour Matters

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Harvest Size, Colour Matters

It’s often difficult to tell when fruit and vegetables are ready to harvest. With produce that does not actually ripen, such as root crops, you often have to go by colour and size.


Citrus trees are fabulous to have in the garden. They have glossy, evergreen foliage, perfumed white flowers and wonderful fruit. Limes (Citrus aurantifolia) can be expensive to buy in the fruit shop, but very easy to grow in the garden, and no garden is complete without a lemon tree (C. limon). The most popular variety of lime is ‘Tahiti’. ‘Eureka’ is a good lemon variety for most areas, but if you live in a cooler part of Australia you might try a ‘Lisbon’ or ‘Meyer’ lemon.

You’d think that the right time to eat citrus is when the fruit colours, but that is not always the case. For most citrus, the longer the fruit remains on the tree, the sweeter it becomes (mandarins are an exception). The best guide for harvesting citrus is to pick and taste a sample to decide how the crop is developing.

Lemonade trees: these trees produce greenish yellow fruit, which can be eaten when still green.

Oranges: the longer you leave oranges on the tree, the better. They start to turn orange around late autumn, but don’t be in a hurry to pick them. If unsure, try one, and if it is sour leave the rest of the crop on the tree a bit longer. Oranges can also re-green over winter but are still ripe and juicy inside.

Mandarins: start eating mandarins as soon as they start to turn orange. If you leave them on the tree for too long the flavour deteriorates.

Grapefruit/lemons/limes: harvest whenever you like.


Vegetables such as carrots, zucchini, silver beet and lettuce can be harvested at any time, although for best flavour they should be picked when small and tender.

Carrots: remember that smaller carrots taste sweeter, so don’t leave them in the ground too long. You can spread the harvest by pulling smaller carrots early, and allowing others to grow bigger.

Zucchini: harvest when young. Frequent picking encourages more flowering and fruiting.

Silver beet: can be harvested leaf by leaf as soon as the plants are large enough.

Lettuce: some varieties (known as soft-hearted lettuce) can be harvested leaf by leaf, others (such as ‘Iceberg’) should be picked as soon as the hearts begin forming.

Asparagus: it is particularly important to harvest asparagus when the shoots are just emerging from the soil and are at their most tender and delicious. Left even for a day or two they quickly elongate and become woody, ferny canes that are tough, fibrous and inedible. Some spears should be left to mature as these leafy canes are needed to feed the plant’s root system over the summer. They are cut down in autumn.

Suggested reading

‘The Complete Book of Fruit Growing in Australia’ by Louis Glowinski (Lothian Books, 1991, ISBN 0850918707, $49.94).
‘Yates’ Garden Guide’ (2000, ISBN 0207191891, $27.44 paperback).