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Harvesting: Getting the Most from your Garden

What if much of what we need for our well-being could be found in a small patch of soil?

Many people plant personal gardens in the summer and the most rewarding thing about planting one is harvesting in the fall! The harvesting time for each plant depends on several factors including length of maturity, temperature, precipitation, health of the soil, health of the plant, and insect and weed control.

After you spend the summer raising your favorite veggies, berries, and fruits, your mind will eventually turn to preparing for harvest time.

By staggering your planting time by the different types of vegetables, you can plan to have all the plants mature at close to the same time for a large-scale harvest of your garden. Or, if you prefer to have a continual supply of various vegetables to eat, freeze, or can, then you can plant them at the same time, knowing they will be ready to harvest at various intervals throughout the growing season. Keep in mind that there are issues that can alter the time to harvest, which may include an early frost, or colder or warmer than normal temperatures. Keeping your vegetables healthy is the key to harvesting on time.

Some guidelines for your vegetables to harvest:

Herbs: Pinch or cut back herbs frequently to keep them producing more stems and leaves and to keep them from blooming, which changes the flavor.

Tomatoes: There is a huge range of tomato varieties. Many kinds are red when ripe, but some are orange, yellow, striped, or even green. You can plant tiny currants or large slicers, which take more time to ripen. So, learn what to expect from your variety and monitor the plant closely as its maturity date nears. Generally, a tomato is fully ripe when it releases easily from the stem. If you misjudge a bit, it’s no tragedy, because tomatoes still ripen somewhat after picking. Some tomatoes are “determinate” types, which will stop bearing after a few weeks. But most are “indeterminate” kinds, which will keep flowering and setting fruit until killed by frost. It’s a good idea to pick your green tomatoes a week or so before your first frost date. The more mature ones will ripen indoors, stored at room temperature, or you can make fried green tomatoes.

Peppers: This vegetable is mature and ready to eat when full in shape but still green. If left on the vine longer, they will change color to red, orange, yellow, purple, or brown, depending on the variety, and will deepen in flavor and become less crisp in texture. Hot peppers left to change color will get hotter.

Lettuce: It’s important to pick lettuce before hot weather encourages the plant to “bolt” or develop a flower stalk, which makes the leaves taste bitter. With leaf lettuce, you can “cut and come again” while the leaves are young and tender. Use scissors to cut the largest leaves individually from the plants. When the smaller leaves get big enough, harvest those. You may be able to come back to the plant up to four times, a few days apart, before it wilts to summer heat.

Green Beans: These are an easy vegetable to harvest. Pick the pods when they are a little shy of their maximum size, to be sure that they are tender, with immature seeds. If you delay, the seeds will mature and harden and the pod will become tough. Don’t pick green beans in the morning when the dew is still on the vines, wait until they are fully dry. Be sure to keep up with regular picking to encourage the vine to keep flowering and producing pods.

Sweet Corn: Timing is everything with sweet corn. The kernels begin to lose sweetness and flavor the instant the ear is picked, so the great advantage to growing your own is so you can wait until the last minute. The traditional rule is to get the pot of water boiling to cook the corn and then go out and pick it. Sweet corn is ready to eat when you can feel full, rounded kernels beneath the husk, the silk at the top of the ear is drying out, and a squished kernel produces a milky sap.

How to harvest a particular vegetable or fruit depends on how it grows on the plant. Some may be snapped off, as in beans or peas, while others will need to be dug out of the soil, as in potatoes. Prepare yourself for harvest by having gloves, shovels of various sizes, a mat on which to sit or kneel, containers for harvested vegetables and fruits, and a wheelbarrow for left over plant debris to be added to your compost pile.

So go check on your garden; you may have some tomatoes to pick!

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