A garden is a terrible thing to waste.
Congratulations, you’ve decided to grow a large portion of your own produce this year! It can be a challenge and a delight to grow your own food. I can promise you will not regret your decision to move closer to self-reliance with your own garden.
This post is part of the National Organic Harvest Month Series put together by several of my gardening blogger friends. Look below for a link to other fantastic posts about harvesting your bounty.
These 6 handy tips for harvest success will help you plan and keep your harvest going as long as possible.
1. Make a plan for the harvest.
It may seem silly to talk about this at the end of the season, but planning will help your harvest next year. Did you have a use for all this produce before you planted it? Sometimes my garden eyes are bigger than my canning and eating ability and at the end of the season I get burned out. Next year begin the season right and set aside some favorite family recipes, new tasty dishes to try, and several different preserving methods.
2. Remember to pick from your garden regularly.
At the beginning of the season we are present for every luscious strawberry and every new zucchini blossom. It’s exciting to see all your planning coming to life. You need to keep up your harvest schedule throughout the season. It actually encourages more growth and prevents mold, disease and discourages the plants from going to seed.
If you have a plan for using your produce ahead of time, it shouldn’t be a problem. I like to do small batch canning and one of my favorite books for this is The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving (Amazon)by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard. Once you get in the habit of preserving small batches, the garden production might not seem so overwhelming. You can make Lemon Ginger Zucchini Marmalade with 3 lemons, 1 orange, ½ a cup of ginger root and 1 cup of shredded zucchini. It’s tasty! (get the recipe below)
3. Keep an eye on pests.
Many a garden marauder has “harvested” your crop before you have the time to attack it yourself. Anticipate that the birds will get after your blueberries and the deer will munch your grapes. Either plant enough for them to eat too, or use preventative measures like fences and netting.
This can be tricky business so it’s best to have a handle on number 4 below. When your crop is ripe, hungry critters will follow close behind.
4. Know how to tell when your crops are ripe.
We’ve all been there – is that watermelon ripe or should I give it a few more days? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. The fruit below will continue to ripen after picking. (source)
The bottom line – read the seed packets and know the expected harvest date for each of the varieties of produce you are growing. It will reduce waste and help you eat the freshest food all season long. I keep mine in my online calendar and just make a note – carrots will ripen this week, watermelons 65 days this week, that kind of thing.
It’s also best to know which vegetables can take a light freeze in the garden so you won’t be so panicked when the time comes. Spinach, kale, carrots, Brussels sprouts and broccoli don’t mind a frost. Your basil, peppers, and tomatoes will be toast once a light frost hits them.
- Apples (best if tree-ripened, but can be picked a week early for longer storage)
- Avocados (ONLY ripen after picking!)
- Bananas (will ripen a great deal and can be picked green)
These fruits are best picked fully ripe:
- Berries (such as strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries)
- Citrus (such as oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit)
- Summer Squash
5. Know the best way to store your harvest.
Each herb, fruit, and vegetable has its own special way that it likes to be treated after harvesting, and before processing for storage. You’ve got to learn the code. Fortunately there are several ways you can figure it out. Check the website Harvest to Table and then search your crop, or purchase a book like The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How (Amazon), which has harvest and post-harvest handling recommendations for every fruit and vegetable there is.
Here’s a preview of three of my favorite vegetables:
Broccoli: Cut heads from the plant, giving the heads about 4” of stem, when the heads are fully formed but the buds are tightly closed. Harvest side shoots daily to prevent bolting, while the buds are still tight. After harvest, refrigerate in a closed plastic bag for 3 to 5 days.
Cucumber: For pickling, the smaller the better; for slicing, pick at about 6 inches unless it is a long variety. Harvest frequently to encourage continuous fruiting. After harvest, keep cool, Store bone dry in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks.
Spinach: When leaves are large enough to enjoy, cut individual outer stems or the whole plant about 1 inch above the soil. When the plant sends up a tall central stem, it is about to bolt. Spinach can generally withstand a light frost. After harvest wash well, lifting the leaves out of the soaking water. Dry well, then refrigerate in a closed plastic bag with paper towels.
6. Know the best way to preserve your harvest.
You’ve saved your harvest from those pests and it’s sitting on the counter or in the refrigerator, waiting to be processed into something special for your family. The possibilities are almost endless.
“The best way to preserve any vegetable is the way that works best for you” Andrea Chesman in Book of Kitchen Know-How
What will you do now?
If you planned ahead you’ve got a pretty good idea about what your family will eat, and you have recipes for fresh produce in hand. At some point your family will be less than enthusiastic about another night of zucchini and you will need to preserve it.
Get familiar with how to preserve specific fruits and vegetables and study up on dehydrating, freezing, fermenting and canning techniques.
We’ll be talking more about putting up the harvest in the weeks ahead but for now here’s an easy recipe from The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving for all that extra zucchini. Enjoy!
Lemon Ginger Zucchini Marmalade
1 medium orange
2 ½ cups water
½ cup chopped fresh peeled gingerroot
1 cup shredded zucchini
4 ½ cups granulated sugar
- Remove the rind from the lemon and orange and cut away the white pith. Reserve the pith and fruit pulp. Cut the rind, into small, thin strips. (you can also use a zester). Add it to a large stainless steel saucepan.
- Add the remaining white pith, water, and gingerroot to the saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, cover, reduce heat and gently boil for 25 minutes. Using tongs, remove the pith.
- Finely chop the fruit pulp in a blender and along with the shredded zucchini add it to the saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat, cover and boil gently for 20 minutes. Stir if necessary.
- Add the sugar to the mixture, return to a rapid boil for about 30 minutes until it forms a gel (that’s what the pith was for…) Stir frequently.
- Ladle into hot pint jars and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes. Makes 4 ½ cups.
Be sure you check the other posts in the series at #OrganicHarvest15. What harvesting tips do you have to share with the group? Tell us on this Facebook post or leave a comment below. Happy #OrganicHarvest15!
September is National Organic Harvest Month and to help you make the most of your harvests, I’ve teamed up with these other amazing bloggers. Please be sure to check out their tips and more: Rachel from Grow a Good Life – Kathie from Homespun Seasonal Living – Teri from Homestead Honey – Chris from Joybilee Farm – Susan from Learning and Yearning – Shelle from Preparedness Mama – Angi from SchneiderPeeps – Janet from Timber Creek Farm