Let’s face it, nothing is more rewarding than being able to pick ripe tomatoes or a bunch of lettuce leaves to create your very own fresh garden salad.

HARVESTING FROM YOUR HYDROPONIC GARDENGrowing vegetables with your own Lettuce Ladder hydroponic system is different from commercial shopping and has some major advantages. Many supermarket shoppers have never tasted truly fresh produce that was picked from the plant and eaten within minutes. In fact, buying commercially grown produce is a crap shoot in the sense that you have no idea how long those vegetables have been in storage, days, weeks?

An indoor garden, whether simple or complex, can be very productive and an oversupply is common. This means that sometimes homegrown fruit and vegetables, herbs and flowers need to be handled and stored correctly. What often confuses many gardeners about harvesting and post-harvest handling of fresh produce is that there are not general rules but, as a guide, lettuce should be stored differently than tomatoes.

For example, lettuce, leafy greens and herbs have a high surface area and moisture content and the main concern after picking is water loss and shriveling. It is important to harvest these when the plants are fully turgid, which means at the peak of growth when the foliage has the greatest water content. Lettuce should be washed in ice water to cool the leaves before storage, and then dry off all moisture from the leaves and place in a sealed plastic bag in the fridge. Basil on the other hand, is cold sensitive and will discolor, go black and loose aroma and flavor if stored under refrigeration. It is best to keep basil at room temperature above 45° F or just pick what you need and leave the plant growing in your hydroponic system. This would be the norm for most herbs if you are intending to use just a little here and there, however for growing herbs to be dried they should be harvested during the latter part of the day when the foliage is least turgid and water content is low. The herbs will dry faster and will keep the qualities they are known for. Most people hang their herbs in a warm area with low humidity; using a fan can help circulate the air around the herbs to provide even faster drying.

tomato-1205699_640Tomatoes. The question asked by many, “Do I put tomatoes in the fridge or leave them out at room temperature?” The correct answer is: tomatoes should not be stored under refrigeration, leave them out at room temperature and consume within 24 hours if possible. Hydroponic tomatoes are best harvested vine ripe meaning when they have developed a good degree of color and firmness while not being over ripe and soft. When harvesting, try to keep the ‘calyx’ attached to the top of the tomato ( the green star-shaped attachment) as this will aid in prolonging shelf life by restricting gas exchange.

Fresh berries anyone? Strawberries, though tricky, can be grown successfully in a hydroponic system, but as with tomatoes, they should be eaten within 24 hours after being picked from the plant. You can prolong the shelf life of berries and put them under refrigeration but the taste will be better when eaten at room temperature.

Most flowers can be grown in hydroponic systems and add visual beauty and functionality to your décor on the dining room table. Flowers are best harvested in the early morning however; this will depend on the type of flowers you grow in your system. Miniature flowers do very well and provide many blooms; however, the most important item to remember is to place the cut flowers immediately into clean, fresh cool water. You can then provide them with a commercial preservative not unlike the one’s supplied by fresh cut flower stores in your neighborhood.

These tips on harvesting and handling your hydroponic produce means that the effort you put in pays off with fresh flowers and tasty fruits or  veggies year 'round.