closeup of woman holding broccoli in her hand

Ready or not it is time to get picking

Harvesting is not an exact science

newDonnawebMy friend Susan asked me when she should start harvesting vegetables.

“When they are ready,” I replied as I wondered why she would ask such a question.

But then it sunk in: Susan has never planted a garden before. She thinks gardening is like farming where the whole harvest happens at once on some mysterious date in fall.

Heads up Susan: spinach and arugula picking is already finished in most home gardens. Oops. Sorry if you missed that. My first crop of lettuce is finished, too. It got too hot and went to seed.

Susan and I are not farmers. We need to pick plants or parts of plants when they are ready or when we need them. With lettuce and spinach, I pick just enough leaves to make a single salad. I usually don’t harvest the whole plant.

With potatoes, I either tickle out a few spuds from the soil or I pull up the whole plant when I need more. I love my Sieglinde fingerling potatoes this year and I find the sooner I pick them the more they look like fingers instead of big fat feet. Of course you get fewer pounds per plant if you pick them early. So for maximum harvest, wait until after they bloom to pull potatoes.

Cabbage has a best-before date that has nothing to do with size. When they are perfect to harvest, the top leaf rolls back and is glossy. The next week, when it is overripe, the whole plant cracks down the middle and splits apart. Luckily they are still edible.

Left too long, zucchini will have a dull finish and will be too large to fit in a wine bag for anonymous deliveries in your neighborhood. I try to pick zucchini small, about the size of a banana, when the skin is still glossy.

Harvesting is not a precise science. Many of our vegetables are good at more than one stage. And some, such as broccoli, will continue to produce little side-shoots well into fall. Others, such as cauliflower, only produce one head per plant. And zucchini? Well, you can grate it at any size for converting into cakes.

If I didn’t cover harvest details of your favorite veggie, send me a note and I will fill you in on the details – and try not to brag.

That said, did I tell you about the giant miniature watermelon I grew this year? It was the biggest miniature I have ever seen. It looked great on the outside, but it was flavourless and white on the inside. At first I blamed the seed supplier, but then I realized it was my fault. Ripeness is not always measured by size. I had picked it too early. I’ve never grown watermelons before and I just didn’t know any better.

Donna Balzer is a garden writer and entertaining speaker. Check out her blog at www.gardenguru.net or follow her on twitter @NoGuffGardener.

 

 

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