Harvest is one of the incredible highlights of the growing season. It’s when all of your hard work, dedication, and attention to detail gets translated into a tangible, finished product. 

Although my experience thus far has been strictly a backyard garden harvest, it’s such an awesome feeling to be picking veggies you grew yourself. I can only imagine it on a larger scale where you are not only feeding yourself and your family but a whole community. I can’t wait!

That being said, a proper harvest requires some special know-how. To ensure quality is maintained all the way from field to fork, certain principles must be understood and followed through.

Since I am not yet a harvest expert, we will once again turn to J.M. Fortier from the market gardener and gain some knowledge through his experiences with all things harvest.

Harvest at the Right Time

It is important to harvest each crop at the right stage of growth.

Veggies harvested before they are fully mature will be much less flavorful, whereas veggies that are overripe will have a shorter shelf life.

For some crops, it’s easy to tell when they are the freshest, and many can be quite forgiving. But for other crops, harvesting at the opportune time will make a big difference.

Each vegetable has its own set of signs to watch out for. 

Another factor to consider is that the right moment to harvest a given veggie does not necessarily coincide with market demand. This is why a cold room (I go more into detail about storage here) is indispensable in a market garden.

For example, veggies such as broccoli, summer squash, and cucumbers can be harvested at the peak of their quality and stored in the cold room for a few days before being sold.

Another important aspect about harvest time is that veggies go on ‘living’ even after being picked. They must be cooled to slow their respiration, otherwise, their freshness and nutritional value will suffer. 

This is why it is important to harvest as early as possible in the morning, before the heat of the day sets in, and to cool the veggies immediately with cold water and/or air from the cold room.

The Harvest Process

The basic harvest process is pretty much always the same and can be divided into four steps:

  1. Collection from the garden
  2. Temporary storage
  3. Washing
  4. Refrigeration in the cold room

This is the harvesting procedure for most veg, but of course, there are exceptions.

Leafy Veg (lettuce included)

These are always the first to be harvested and are brought to storage immediately in harvest bins.

As soon as they arrive, the leaves are sprayed with cold water to keep them cool until the washing step which is done later that day.

The washing step involves carefully removing damaged leaves, submerging the veg in a cold water bath for a few seconds, and leaving them to drain until they have all been dipped.

The veg is then gently placed in a closed bin and stored in the cold room.

Root Veggies Sold in Bunches

These are sorted and bunched in the garden or, if it’s hot out, brought to the cool storage area in bulk to be bunched.

Any damaged leaves are removed during the assembling process, and the bunches are calibrated to ensure uniformity. 

While awaiting their turn at the wash station, the root veggies are kept in harvest bins and sprayed with cold water so that the tops stay fresh. 

At the washing stage, any dirt is rinsed off the roots with a pressure hose. 

The clean bunches are then placed in bins in a staggered fashion.

Broccoli and Cauliflower

These will stay crisp longer if they are cooled immediately after being harvested.

They are immediately immersed in a cold water bath, drained, and taken to the cold room.

Since broccoli and cauliflower heads are not picked systematically on harvest day, but as they reach maturity, it is important to clearly mark the date of harvest on each bin so that they can be distributed in order of freshness.

Beans and Peas

Beans and peas do not need to be washed, but if harvested midday, they benefit from being sprayed with cool water before going into the cold room.

If this is the case, you must make sure that they are put into a container that allows the water to drain out properly, in order to prevent rust – especially for beans.


These are crunchiest if they are cooled after being harvested from the tunnels. 

The freshly picked cucumbers are immediately immersed in a cold water bath, drained, and stored in the cold room in a bin marked with the harvest date.


Tomatoes may be harvested at any time of day, but they must always be handled with great care, as damaged tomatoes have a shorter shelf life.

To avoid handling them twice, store tomatoes in the same bins used to harvest them and keep them at the ambient temperature of the storage area.

Mesclun Mix

This is harvested on a different day from the rest of the crops so the entire cutting can be done early in the morning. It can be a very long job! 

Once harvested, the greens are immersed in a cold water bath and gently swirled to mix up the different sizes and colours.

Any weeds, insects, or damaged leaves are removed at this stage.

The mix is then spun in an electric spinner to prevent rot and delicately packed into sealed plastic bags, which go into the cold room.


These can be harvested at any time of day. They are not usually refrigerated but instead left to ripen at the ambient temperature of the storage area.

If they are harvested too ripe by mistake, they are taken into the cold room, even if it reduces their flavour somewhat.


Basil can be harvested at any time of day, but it must never be harvested wet or kept in a sealed bag, as moisture will turn the leaves black.

Basil is stored in the cold room in a half-open bin to prevent condensation.

Summer Squash

These are harvested every 2-3 days when the fruits are still small. They are not washed.

They are put in the cold room in bins marked with the harvest date.

Summer Onions

Summer Onions can be harvested any time of the day and are often saved for when most of the harvest is finished.

They are bunched in the garden, hosed down to remove any soil, and stored in the cold room.

harvest carrots


The post-harvest procedure on J.M.’s farm is pretty straight forward since veggies are not stored for very long.

They sell most of their veggies the day after they are harvested. The storage space is kept at about 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius), which is cool enough for most veg. 

Those that need to be refrigerated are kept at 36-39 degrees Fahrenheit (2-4 degrees Celsius) in the cold room.

Harvesting Efficiently

Harvesting is a task that can drag on and on, and if you spend too much time on some veggies, others will wilt before they are picked.

Drooping veg can always be perked up again in very cold water, but part of their quality will be lost.

When it comes to the harvest, time is of the essence, more so than with any other farming task.

The best way to keep the harvest moving along is for the grower to master harvesting techniques that enable maximum efficiency.

Since most harvesting involves small repeated actions, so it is important to take the time to study the ergonomic aspects of these movements.

This requires practice and a certain amount of self-awareness, but taking the time to perfect picking techniques can save hundreds of hours of unnecessary work in the long run.

Another important aspect of an efficient harvest is to organize workflow in order to minimize the number of times the veggies are handled.

Finding ways to cut down on trips between the garden and storage area is especially important.

For example, to avoid having to fetch more elastic bands in case you miss some, keep an extra box in your harvest cart. Do the same with field knives, and any other harvesting implement that is necessary.

The main idea to remember is that taking care of tiny details now can save huge amounts of time later.

Bottom Line

Just like almost every other task on your market garden, pulling off an efficient harvest requires forethought, planning, and know-how.

If you are a market garden newbie like us, you will develop these skills over time. Hopefully, the tips in this article provided by an experienced market gardener, J.M. Fortier, will help make your harvest a success.

Do you have any harvest tips you would like to share in the comments down below? We would love to hear from you!

Stay Local,

Kathy & Jon

your friendly neighbourhood growers


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