The taste, appearance and quality of vegetables can be affected if they are not harvested at the proper stage of maturity.
Some vegetables are difficult to maintain in an acceptable fresh state for even a very short time, while other vegetables have a much longer shelf life.
Harvesting most vegetables when they are young and storing them properly will help extend their shelf life. Lowering the internal temperature also helps to slow both the respiration process and quality decline. This is one reason for harvesting vegetables early in the day before the heat from the sun has warmed them. After the harvest, most vegetables should be kept cool and out of direct sunlight until they are either processed or consumed.
While harvesting too soon may result in only a reduction in yield, harvesting too late can result in poor quality due to development of objectionable fiber and the conversion of sugars into starches. A late harvest also can cause plants to terminate, or stop producing as they complete their reproduction process. Fully-mature vegetables left on the plant also attract more disease and insect problems. The following table gives suggestions for determining the proper stage of maturity for harvesting many vegetables.
Information courtesy of Robert R. Westerfield, Willie O. Chance III, and Darbie Granberry of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences/Cooperative Extension.