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How to Harvest & Store Summer Veggies Abundance

July is the PRIME HARVEST MONTH! June crops are mature, tomatoes are full colors! Plants are still vibrant! August is hot, after a hot July, and plants are slowing down. Harvest is slacking off, some plants are about to or already at a good time to allow seeding and seedsaving. Exceptions might be Winter Squash, Pumpkins. But July is the time for fresh eating harvests!

Harvest at your veggie’s peak delicious moment! Juicy, crunchy, that certain squish in your mouth, sweet, full bodied flavor, vibrant texture, radiant, vitamin and mineral rich! Besides being delicious and beautiful, it keeps your plant in production. Left on the plant, fruits start to dry and your plant stops production, goes into seeding mode. The fruit toughens, withers, loses flavor, maybe rots, sometimes brings insect scavenger pests that clean up, but spread to other plants. So, harvest right on time and let that radiance fill you!

Tomatoes can be harvested when they are green or when they get the color you chose! Bend cherry toms backwards on their stems so you get the cap and stem. This keeps them from splitting open. Next year you can get seeds for non cracking varieties! O’ course, if they split, you absolutely must eat them on the spot so they don’t spoil! 🙂 No fridging! Keep toms at room temp. Pink tomatoes ripen to a better taste and red color if they are left at room temperature. They do not turn red in the refrigerator, and red tomatoes kept in the refrigerator lose their flavor. If you want a tom to ripen, place it in a paper bag with an apple. No problem freezing toms whole! Just remove the stem core. You can blanch them and remove the skins first, or not…your choice.

Cucumbers – no storing on the vine. Your plant thinks it’s done and stops producing. Cut, clip or carefully twist off while holding the vine. Probiotic pickle your cukes. Cucumbers are another room temp veggie. University of California, Davis, says cukes are sensitive to temperatures below 50°F. They thrive and last longer at room temp. However, cucumbers, eggplant and peppers can be kept in the refrigerator for 1 to 3 days if they are used soon after removal from the refrigerator.

Refreshing Zero Calorie Cucumber Water! Martha Stewart says remove strips of cucumber skin, creating 1/2-inch-wide alternating bands of peeled and bare cucumber. Trim and discard ends. Halve cucumber lengthwise; cut into 1/2-inch slices. Combine cucumber and water in large pitcher; steep for 1 hour, and serve over ice.

Sweet Peppers – depends on the pepper. Let them stay on the plant if you planted ones for pretty colors. Cut or clip them off so not to damage your plant. Only wash them right before you plan on eating them; wetness decreases storage time. Store in a cool area, or only 1 to 3 days in a plastic bag in the vegetable crisper of refrigerator, separate from fruit. Green peppers will usually stay fresh longer than orange or red peppers. Quick-freeze ones you won’t be using right away! Slice, dice, and freeze in baggies in the amounts you anticipate using in a stir fry or stew.

A note on Plumping up! Gardeners in hot regions will need to be especially patient with big bells and sweet roasting peppers. Both of these tend to wait until the nights are longer and cooler in late summer before fruiting and plumping up. These folks may want to plant banana peppers or sweet non-bells, which will ripen in time to use with those bumper crops of tomatoes and basil. Peppers need time on the plant to absorb nutrients and water and plump up their flesh, so pack your patience.

String Beans Harvest just about daily. If they bulge with seeds and start to dry, your plant thinks it’s done and stops producing. Pick, pick, pick! Get them to the fridge vegetable drawer. If you have too many at once or want some for after season use, cut them to bite size pieces or freeze whole! Put as many per bag as you will use for the kind of meal you will use them for. If for a stew you will feast on for several days, you may want a larger quantity bag.

Carrots Check the shoulders of your carrots to see if they are the size you are wanting. A big carrot is not necessarily tough and woody. If you want tender snacking types, pull while they are smaller. Water well the day before pulling, dig down beside them to loosen them if necessary so they don’t break off in the ground. Carrots go limp if you leave them lying about. Cut the tops off to keep them fresh longer. Get them cooled off in the fridge veggie drawer in a closed container with plenty of moisture, either wrapped in a damp towel or dunk them in cold water every couple of days if they’re stored that long. Be creative with your cuts if you freeze some. Go diagonal, rippled, cubed, curled, sticks, or even whole!

Summer Squash, Zucchini Harvest in self defense! They get BIG, FAST! Some of you came from big families and like stuffing and baking them and would never think of harvesting them until they are huge, lotsa bang for your buck! Others have a family of 1, can’t possibly eat all that zuke, so harvest them quite small, fresh salad slicing size. The ridged types make pretty little star shaped slices! They like hanging out in the fridge, but not for long! They are more soft than carrots or peppers. Give away what you won’t use asap.

Lettuce can be harvested at just about any size, but definitely needs to be harvested before it bolts, puts up a stalk, or immediately after. Left longer, the plant dries, the leaves usually bitter. Leave it for seeds, or compost it. It can be harvested several ways. Eat the thinnings of a group you may have deliberately overplanted! If it is at a size you like, pick lower leaves and take them to the kitchen immediately. Wash, spin dry if you have a spinner, put them in a bag in the fridge veggie drawer. Feast daily until they are gone, go harvest some more. If harvesting a bit at a time drives you nutty, give it a whack about 2 ” above the ground and leave the root there. Take that lovely beauty home and process as usual. Good chance the root in the ground will regrow more lettuce if you keep the area moist! It won’t likely be as big as the original plant, but you will have more lettuce. Or pull that root and toss it in the compost. Plant more lettuce! Your choice. If your plant has bolted, take the whole plant and the leaves that are still good.

Sweet Corn When the silks turn brown and you push your fingernail in a kernel and it squirts milky juice, it’s ready for harvest! It holds its sweetness only 2 to 5 days! Harvest early in the day, make time to your fridge or the barbie because the sugars turn to starch very quickly! If you can’t eat them right away, pop them in the freezer, husks on! If you love tamales, use those husks!

Melons Harvest sooner by placing ripening melons on upside down aluminum pie pans or cans to keep them off the damp soil. The reflected heat and light will help them ripen evenly and sooner than when they are shaded by foliage or up in the cooler air on a trellis. Watermelons lose their flavor and deep red color if they are stored for longer than 3 days in the refrigerator. If you can’t eat them big ones fast enough, plant smaller size varieties, like container types, or harvest as soon as possible. Uncut, store in a cool dry place, out of the sun up to a couple weeks. Cut melons should be in the fridge, an open container is fine. In general, melons prefer your countertop. Really, no storing melons. Just eat ’em!

OR! Make melon sorbet! Simplest recipe: one melon, juice of one line, a few squirts of honey (some ppl use sugar) blend and freeze. Tasty and healthy on a hot day! Use an ice cream machine if you like. Variations might be a dusting of salt, syrup steeped with mint. Serve with fresh blackberries, blueberries, raspberries. Mmm…..

Potatoes are ready for digging when the plant flowers and after if you want them bigger! Wet up the soil until muddy, feel about for the biggest ones, leaving the others to get sizable for another harvest later. Store garlic, onions, potatoes, and sweet potatoes in a well ventilated area in the pantry. Protect potatoes from light to avoid greening; a paper bag also works well.

Okra! If your summer has been hot enough you got some! They must be harvested before they get tough. Letting them get bigger simply doesn’t pay. So look carefully for mature fruits and take ’em! I grow the burgundy and ruby types, slice them fresh over my salads. Pretty little stars. Okra really is best fresh. Very fresh. Eat okra within a few days of buying it. Store okra loosely wrapped in a plastic bag in the fridge veggie drawer.

Strawberries Pick them when they are red and vibrant looking! Don’t let them hang out on the plant where soil creatures or birds will nibble on them. Storing them is a little different. Quickly as possible, store fresh picked berries in a container lined with a paper towel or in a paper bag in the coldest part of your fridge. They will last about a week, but it’s more fun to eat them sooner!

The counter storage area should be away from direct sunlight to prevent produce from becoming too warm. And don’t put them in sealed plastic bags that don’t let them ripen and increase decay.

Per UC Davis: Refrigerated fruits and vegetables should be kept in perforated plastic bags in the produce drawers of the refrigerator. You can either purchase perforated plastic bags or make small holes with a sharp object in unperforated bags (about 20 pin holes per medium-size bag). Separate fruits from vegetables (use one drawer for each group) to minimize the detrimental effects of ethylene produced by the fruits on the vegetables. Use all refrigerated fruits and vegetables within a few days since longer storage results in loss of freshness, flavor and nutrition.

Your SECOND HARVEST is SEEDS! As July goes on or in August, when you or your plant are ready, let your very best plants produce but don’t harvest the fruits. Beans get lumpy with seeds and will dry completely. Let them dry on the vine for full nutrition from the mother plant. Let a cucumber yellow and dry. Let the corn cob dry and the kernels get hard. Cukes, peppers, melons, okra and squash are easy. Just remove the seeds and let them dry. Label the drying containers with year and name! Tomatoes are a tiny bit of a process but not hard at all. See more!

Save enough seeds from your best plants for your own planting, for several rounds of planting across the next season, for replanting when there are losses, and some to give away or share at a seed swap. Keep the local race going.

Seeds Mini Dandelion Glass Jar SeedSaving
Mini Dandelion seeds! Dandelion is a terrific companion plant, super nutritious and medicinal!

Some seeds, like beans and sunflower, are food in themselves, or used as spices and seasonings, Cilantro/Coriander or pepper seeds. They may be pounded to colorful powders. Others are medicinal, like Calendula or used in teas like Chamomile. Many are so pretty in gift jars, as art, in necklaces or as talismans!

Give away or store what you can’t eat. Freezing is the simplest storage method. Cut veggies to the sizes you will use, put the quantity you will use in baggies, seal and freeze. Whole tomatoes, chopped peppers, beans, onions. If you need more than your freezer can hold, get into canning! Learn about it from a pro and do it right! In SoCal, few of us can since our ‘winter’ crops are so abundant as well! Usually the only things canned are favorites you would like a taste of during the winter, jellies/jams, or if you won’t be gardening in the winter months. Probiotic pickle your cukes and cabbages and anything else you want to! That is a super healthy option!

See 5 Simple & Easy Storage Ideas for your Harvest Bounty! Nothing wasted, inexpensively made, thankfully eaten!

Enjoy your sumptuous meals! Sing a song of gratitude and glory!

Here’s a quickie convenient reference graphic from UCDavis

 

Storage - Which veggies and fruits to Refrigerate or Countertop!

7.1.17 Updated

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara’s community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are often in a fog belt/marine layer most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic!

 

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Carpenter Bee - Male, AKA Teddy Bear Bee!

April 15, 2011 I had my first encounter with a huge male carpenter bee – see image! Awesome! They are all fuzzy and yellow (not all black like the females), sometimes called Teddy Bear Bees, and I could totally see why! They hover closely and look you right in the eye, buzz off and come back for another look! They are the largest bees found in California, don’t sting. What a pollinator!

Magic May, Mama Earth’s Bounty Month, It’s Cantaloupe Time!!

Keep planting your summer veggies and year-arounds! If you haven’t put in the summer heat lovers, do it NOW! That’s peppers, eggplant, okra, melons. Absolutely get winter squash in now. It takes time to mature and harden. Beans, beets, carrots, chayote, corn, cucs, summer lettuce varieties, pumpkins, radish, zuchs, chard, tomatoes, more tomatoes, turnips! Omigod, I’m hungry!

Harvesting is like pruning, no? So eat! Keep your plant producing by steady picking and plucking, no storing on the vine! Otherwise, it thinks it did its job, made those seeds, and folds up camp! Keep your broccoli harvested. If you see flower stalks, cut them off ASAP, back to where new shoots can come. If you are getting too many sprouts, cut them back further to slow them down. Eat those bitty zuchs, flowers and all! Use those herbs you planted – basils, thyme, sage, oregano. Just a few of their leaves rubbed, mashed, steeped, chopped, can add luscious flavors! Make pretty bouquet garni for giveaways! Parsley is SO good for you, and beautiful in your garden! Its second year it goes to seed, a biennial. Pull and cook the tasty roots in your soup, or let a plant or two go to seed to feed beneficial insects and reseed your patch.

Oh yes, and, of course, plant cosmos, marigolds, petunias, sunflowers, sweet alyssum, your favorite summer flowers!

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February! SOIL & SEED Month!

Please see February 2010 for tips on aphids/white flies, slugs/snails, gophers, soil, seed starting basics! 

When there are warm days, it is ever so tempting to plant up summer veggies!  Don’t do it.  Not yet.  Start seeds. 

Depending on how much space you have, plant a last round of your very favorite winter crops – lettuces, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, kale, kohlrabi, potatoes, radishes, turnips.  Bare-root asparagus and artichokes.  I forgot to tell you last month, you could start zucchini!  At Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden we had an elder gardener who always started his in January, early February, and had great zucchini way before everyone else!  Other than zuchs, really look at those days to maturity, and add the number of days you expect for harvest duration.  If you plant a long maturing plant that would be harvested for some time, think if you would rather have that space for an early round of a summer veggie you love more.  Choose mildew and disease resistant varieties for your late peas.  

Keep sidedressing your producing plants, protect your tasty lettuces from slugs and snails.  Keep watch for aphids, and, if you disturb your plant and a little cloud of white things fly off, you have white flies.  Spray those little buggers off asap so they don’t spread to your other plants or someone else’s!  Keep up with your harvesting.  Wait until it warms up some more to prune frost damaged plants.  Even wait until next month to fertilize.  

But do prepare your soil for March summer veggie planting.  Dig if you must – I’m a no-dig, no weed person who leaves the living soil structure intact [see Gaia’s Garden, 2nd edition, chapter on soil].  Instead, prepare your soil by layering good stuff on top, called Lasagna Gardening, sheet composting, composting in place, or on-the-ground composting!  Garden smart!  If it is already there, you don’t have to move it from the compost pile to where it is needed!  Build your soil in place or in your new raised beds!  If you are putting raised beds on top of your lawn, lay down several layers of heavy cardboard first, to stop the grass and weeds, thoroughly soak it, then layer, layer, layer!  When they get there, your plant’s roots will easily poke their way through the cardboard.  Definitely attach gopher proof wire mesh to the bottom of your raised bed frame before you start filling it, unless you are creating your garden on top of concrete or a roof.  If you are container gardening, check out Patricia Lanza’s book Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces: A Layering System for Big Results in Small Gardens and Containers: Garden in Inches, Not Acres. 

Healthy layering should be 2 dry/Carbon to 1 wet/Nitrogen. 

Carbon – carbon-rich matter (like branches, stems, dried leaves, peels, bits of wood, bark dust or sawdust, shredded brown paper bags, coffee filters, conifer needles, egg shells, hay, peat moss, wood ash) gives compost its light, fluffy body.
Nitrogen – nitrogen or protein-rich matter (manures, food scraps, leafy materials like lawn clippings and green leaves) provides raw materials for making enzymes. 

  • Lay twigs or straw first, a few inches deep. This aids drainage and helps aerate the pile.
  • ADD dry materials – straw, leaves and wood ashes. If you have wood ashes, sprinkle in thin layers, or they will clump together and be slow to break down.  Fine chopped, smaller materials decompose faster.
  • Lay on manure, green manure ( clover, buckwheat, wheatgrass ) or any nitrogen source. This activates the compost pile and speeds the process along.  Put on rinsed seaweed for minerals, scatter some yarrow sprigs to further speed decomposition, and, of course, your kitchen food waste. 
  • Think how that pile is going to decompose lower and lower.  Build enough layers to get the amount of soil you need.  Could be 18” high.
  • If you like, sprinkle some microbe rich topsoil over it all to ‘inoculate’ with living soil organisms that will immediately go to work.  Add a few handfuls of red wriggler compost worms.  Add any other amendments that make you happy.
  • Install some pathways.  Don’t walk on your oxygen rich breathing brew and squeeze the life out of it, or crush your worms and soil structure!  Keep things fluffy for good soil aeration and water absorption.   
  • If you need to, for aesthetic reasons, cover the compost with a pretty mulch that will break down slowly.  Spread it aside when you are ready to plant.  It could be down leaves; if you need your soil in that area to be slightly acidic, cover with pine needles (strawberries).
  • If things get stinky, add more carbon.
  • You want to plant NOW, or the same day you layer?  Can do!  Or your instant soil wasn’t so instant?  OK, here’s the instant remedy.  Make planting holes in your layers, put in some compost you purchased or have on hand, mycorrhizal fungi, and plant!  The rest will catch up, and the heat from the composting material underneath will warm your plants!  You WILL have a fine garden!  

If you do also need a traditional compost pile for spot needs, consider “No-turn” composting!  The biggest chore with composting is turning the pile from time to time. However, with ‘no-turn composting’, your compost can be aerated without turning.  The secret is to thoroughly mix in enough coarse material, like straw – little air tubes, when building the pile. The compost will develop as fast as if it were turned regularly, and studies show that the nitrogen level may be even higher than turned compost.  With ‘no-turn’ composting, add new materials to the top of the pile, and harvest fresh compost from the bottom of the bin.

So here are 3 ways to save garden time and your back!  1)  No digging!  2)  Compost in place, no moving it.  3) No compost turning!  Uh huh.

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