The stage at which you pick garden greens greatly influences their palatability. For tender greens, pick them when the plants are young and smaller. But if you want increased yield, let the plants grow a bit before snipping off leaves.
Harvesting Baby Greens
Harvest small and very tender leaves early in the growing season. For example, break or cut off single outer leaves near the base of leaf lettuce plants (Lactuca sativa) grown in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 to 9, and spinach (Spinacia oleracea), grown in USDA zones 3 to 9. After you pick the small individual leaves, new leaves will grow, allowing for an extended harvest. Or, remove the entire plant by cutting it near the soil surface when the leaves are still baby size.
Harvesting More Mature Greens
By waiting to harvest until the plants are larger, the plants will yield more greens. Harvest the outer, more mature leaves first and allow the small interior leaves to grow. This method is often used to harvest Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris L. subsp. cicla), found in USDA zones 5 to 10. If you prefer to harvest the entire plant, cut all leaves about 3 to 4 inches from the soil surface. Pick the leaves before the formation of any flowers to avoid bitter and tough greens.
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