Harvesting Warm Weather Crops

This spring Big Green Los Angeles schools planted different crops from previous years. In anticipation of a hot spring, schools planted warm weather crops such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc. Of course, this year we also saw the coolest temperatures in 60 years–go figure. Despite the cool temperatures, many of you will see harvestable crops as we get closer to the end of the school year.

Please note that next year we hope to return to our usual planting schedule. We planted late this year because of our unusually cool February temperatures.


  • Uses: anise has a strong liquorice flavor that can be added to teas, honey, breads, etc.
  • Harvesting
    • Leaves: cut leaves as needed
    • Flowers: use fresh, opened flowers
    • Seeds: cut flowering stems and hang upside down in a cool, dry location until thoroughly dry


  • Uses: basil leaves can be used fresh or dried; fresh flowers are also edible and have a milder taste
  • Harvest: basil by picking individual leaves as needed rather than cutting the stems.
  • Notes: basil does not like very high temperatures. To keep basil growing and to maximize leaf growth, remove flower buds as they form.


  • Harvesting
    • string beans: pick when they are 5-8 inches long but pods are not too plump
    • dried beans: allow pods to partially dry on the plant then cut and allow to dry in a cool, dry place
  • Notes: harvesting regularly will encourage more pods to form. Conversely, not harvesting frequently will stop pod production!


  • Uses: fresh soybeans are used in a lot of Asian dishes. You can cook them with or without the shell.
  • Harvest: soybeans by picking pods as soon as they have become plump and are not yet yellow. Yellow soybeans are a sign of declining quality.
  • Notes: harvesting regularly will encourage more pods to form. Conversely, not harvesting frequently will stop pod production!


  • Uses: use the root vegetable fresh, roasted, pickled, etc. Use young, tender beet greens in fresh salads. Older greens can be sauteed like other hearty greens.
  • Harvesting:
    • leaves: while the beets are still growing, pick large unblemished leaves at the base. Cut no more than a quarter of leaves while growing. Beet greens can be used once the beetroot has been harvested, though they will store better attached to the rest of the beet.
    • root: beets are ready when they start “popping out” of the soil; you should be able to easily see the top part of the beetroot from the soil line. If a lot of time has passed and you still don’t see the beetroot, gently use your finger to check the diameter of the beetroot.


  • Harvest: carrots when they “pop out” of the soil; you should be able to easily see the top part of the carrot root from the soil line. Carrot tops are also edible. Keep them attached to the root for a longer storage time.


  • Uses: pickled or eaten raw
  • Harvest: cucumbers by using sharp shears to cut one inch above the cucumber. Keeping this nub attached will help preserve the cucumber.
    • Japanese cucumbers (bumpy peel) when they are 7 to 9 inches long.
    • Persian cucumbers (smooth peel) when they are 4 to 6 inches long.
  • Note: you can harvest cucumbers at any size so if you still have cucumbers on the vine on the last day of school, you can harvest them at smaller sizes.


  • Uses: dill can be used fresh or dried. Flowers and seeds are also edible.
  • Harvesting:
    • leaves: cut leaves (as needed) to stem
    • seed: allow flowers to bloom and dry in place. Once the dried flowers are light brown, cut and remove seeds.
  • Note: dill will stop producing leaves when it blooms. To prolong harvest window, remove flower buds as they form. Dill flavor fades after it is harvested, so only harvest what you intend to use.


  • Harvest: when fruit are about 8 inches long or the stated size for your variety. Fruit should be shiny. If fruit is dull, it may be over-ripe which leads to tougher, seed-full fruit. Use garden shears to cut off 1/2 inch above fruit and be careful to avoid spikes on stem. Use garden gloves if available.
  • Note: frequent harvesting results in more fruit!


  • Uses: fennel has an anise-like taste and is used in a lot of Italian food
  • Harvesting:
    • bulb: harvest when the bulb (which is actually an enlarged stem) is no more than 2.5 inches in diameter. Bulbs can be harvested at smaller sizes as well, they will just be more tender. Cut the bulb from the base, leaving about an inch intact. More fennel can regrow from this stub if properly cared for.
    • leaves: cut leaves as needed prior to using. It is best to harvest in the cool morning hours.
  • Note: dry soil tends to make fennel flower (go to seed) prematurely, so keep watering consistently. Remove flower buds as soon as you notice them to ensure a longer harvest.


  • Harvest: outside leaves, leaving smaller interior leaves to grow. Additionally, you can also cut from the base leaving lettuce stub in the ground. If properly cared for (and it doesn’t get too hot), the lettuce can regrow.


  • Marigolds provided by Big Green are edible. If you purchased and planted your own marigolds, you can learn more about edible varieties here.
  • Uses: young, tender marigold blossoms have a mild citrus flavor.
  • Harvest: marigolds by cutting the bloom. Remove petals from the stem before eating. You can learn more about eating marigolds here.


  • Harvest: when bunching onions are about an inch in diameter. Larger onions are still perfectly edible, their flavor is stronger and may be best suited for cooked recipes.


  • Harvest: when peppers are 3-4 inches in diameter and height. Cut above the pepper, leaving a small stub attached to the stem.
  • Important Note: All bell peppers start green and are perfectly edible at this point. All schools received a mix of peppers: orange, red, and green. You can wait until your peppers are orange or red or pick them as soon as they have reached the desired width/height! The flavor does change as fruit ripens.


  • Harvest: radishes when you can see the top (pink/orange/white) of the radishes push through the soil. To harvest, pull from the base of the stem. Wiggle back and forth if the radishes do not easily come up.


  • Harvest: when fruit is 6-8 inches long and can still be easily pierced by your fingernail. They are edible at larger or smaller sizes but they are most tender at about 6 inches.
  • Notes: summer squash include Golden Glory (seedling) and Crookneck squash (seed).


  • Harvest: when tomatoes have reached mature size and are at least starting to turn red or yellow, depending on variety. To pick, hold the tomato with one hand and the stalk with the other and gently tug.
  • Note: each school received at least three different type of tomatoes. Please refer to your seedling tags for “mature size” information. Tomatoes can be picked before they have fully ripen and will continue to ripen in a dry place.


P.S. A tip on using dried herbs: add fresh herbs at the end of the recipe to keep the color and delicate flavor intact. Add dried herbs in the beginning of a recipe to allow time for the flavors to mingle.