How to Harvest Your Garden Fruits and Vegetables
Harvesting Garden Fruits
Easy and effective ways to spread the enjoyment of our bountiful produce over even more months of the year. In temperate climates we only have a short growing season of about half the year. In-the UK we can sow most hardy crops outdoors only in March and April and we have to harvest most of them before the frosts of late September. The majority of shrubs and trees have no leaves for the winter half and no fruits except in autumn. We are forced to grow all our year’s supplies in six months to keep us going for the whole year. Of course, we can always go and buy some imported substitute, but these never taste the same. So successful harvesting and storing are as important as growing the crops in the first place, and deserve every care.
Harvesting is the most glorious job of the year, whether it is on a grand or a modest scale. Digging potatoes is like searching for buried gold, while jam-filled cupboards and the deep freeze become our treasure chests. While all the cups are overflowing, do remember that soon there will be an almost bare garden and little chance of replenishment for another year.
So harvest and store diligently, and do not give away all your best to non-gardening friends and neighbours. This may be mean-spirited, but they would not expect you to retain the poorer, misshapen ones for yourself — as most gardeners do. Have them round for a meal and share it with them that way. Store only the best, eat fresh the rest, compost what’s left.
While the harvesting time for most vegetables is not often that critical, most fruits are more demanding and only thoroughly enjoyable when perfectly ripened.are improved by chilling first, but most fruits are tastiest warmed by the sun and eaten straight off the plant. A few fruits, such as pears, have to be watched till they are nearly ripe, picked a tad early and brought to perfection in a warm, not too dry, dim room that is inspected daily. Long-keeping apples need careful picking for storage if they are to last ten months. The best date for picking fruit depends on the cultivar, , site and season and can be determined only by experience as these factors vary considerably. For storing for home use, fruits need to be at just the right stage. Most store best when picked just under-ripe. They may keep longer picked younger, but very much at the cost of flavour and sweetness. On any tree, the sunny ‘side ripens first — in the northern hemisphere usually the south-east corner, as morning sun is stronger than afternoon because the air is cleaner.
Fruit will also ripen earlier if extra warmth is supplied — next to a wall, window, chimney or vent, or just close to the soil, are good places for early fruits. Likewise, when the rest have gone, you may find some hidden in the shade. So wait for the fruits on the sunny side to ripen — the rest of the crop is probably perfect for picking to store or process.
Vegetables can usually be picked over a long season and many vegetables are easier to store than fruits as they are less prone to rots. Indeed some, such as parsnips and most roots, brassicas and leeks, are best left in the ground if they are protected against hard frosts. Some, such as the squashes and the onion tribe, just need careful drying and keeping in an airy, frost-free place. A few crops, such as petits pois, ripen and go over rather rapidly, so you need to plan your harvest carefully so that they can be used fresh on the day and the rest processed in one efficient swoop, otherwise it’s tough peas or save them for drying.
Harvestingis best done at the last minute for fresh use. It is not widely appreciated how quickly valuable nutrients diminish in food once it is picked. Time spent wilting in poor conditions can halve the vitamin content as well as spoil the texture and flavour. If herbs are going to be stored, pick them at their peak — often just before they flower. Do not leave them to go over. Crunchy salad crops should always be picked at dawn with the cool dew on them; then they will have maximum crispness and can be kept in the refrigerator till required.