Gardening can be one of the most rewarding activities and at the same time, one of the most frustrating experiences – and that is just your tomato plants.
It is so rewarding to be able to grow your own food. I grew up on a farm and every year we planted a very large garden that would feed my family of eight for the entire winter.
We spent much of our summers preserving food. Even though shelling peas or peeling corn cobs didn’t seem like a like of fun at the time, it is something that never leaves you and I am so glad that I have had that experience.
Frustration comes into play when it comes to the different diseases, insects and other critters.
With the amount of rain that we have been getting in July, some plants are thriving while others are struggling with different disease problems.
The one thing that I love about gardeners, though, is their eternal optimism – often saying, “Next year will be better.”
For vegetable gardeners, the best season is the “early harvest” season. You can be busy harvesting the fruits of your labour from picking peas and lettuce in early summer to gathering pumpkins and winter squash later in the season.
Here are some general tips on how to harvest this summer:
1. Pick at the correct time. For some vegetables, this means picking at the peak of ripeness, others, like tomatoes, can be picked early and will continue to ripen off the plant.
Corn – pick cobs when the tassel turns brown and the cob feels plump.
Carrots – start harvesting when the size is large enough to be using them. Carrots become sweeter when harvested after the soil started to cool in late summer.
Eggplant – Cut from the plant when the skin turns glossy, and fruit has stopped getting bigger.
Cucumbers – start to harvest as the fruit is large enough to use. Harvest often to keep them producing.
Green Beans – pick when young and tender. When bean pods begin to bulge, it means that the seed is maturing, and the bean will be tougher and more stringy.
Melons – Withhold water from your melons for about a week before harvesting. This will help the sugars to become more concentrated and sweeter tasting.
Tomatoes – Best to harvest before they become dead ripe on the vine. This will help to reduce the fruit’s skin from cracking, and you can pick them before any critters decide to feast on them.
Leave them on the countertop to ripen. Do not twist the stem and green calyx off when picking tomatoes. They will last longer if left on.
Onions – Harvest Spanish or cooking onions once leaves have yellowed and fallen over.
Zucchini – Harvest when young and tender.
2. Harvest regularly. Many vegetables, like green and yellow beans, will stop producing if it is left on the plant to mature.
3. Pick in the morning. There are a couple of good reasons to harvest your vegetables early in the morning.
One reason is that the temperatures will be cooler, making it a more desirable time for you to be out in the sun.
Secondly, your produce will be better hydrated and not stressed. This enhances the quality and flavour.
4. Preserve your food. Wait to harvest your produce until you know that you’ll have time for the canning, freezing or dehydration process right away. Preserving vegetables when they are at their freshest helps retain valuable nutrients and improves flavour.
Cut, don’t tear, to avoid damaging the plant and bruising the fruit.
Water root crops. Irrigating root crops prior to your summer vegetable harvest softens the soil and reduces the risk of marring tender skin.
Joanne Young is a Niagara-on-the-Lake garden expert and coach. See her website at joanneyoung.ca