Growing Green, A Family Gardening Series: Week 8

In this week's blog: Harvest
Did you participate in “National Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbour’s Porch Day” on August 8? Or perhaps it’s tomatoes or beans that you’re trying to offload? For many vegetables, it’s peak harvest season right now on the prairies. I suspect I am part squirrel, as I hoard most of my vegetables for storage for the winter, but there is still enough growing in my garden for us to have fresh vegetables every day, and to share with others.

Six of the edibles in this picture were from my garden – including the blossoms!

For kids, the harvest is often the best part of gardening. My friend Joanne tells this story:
My mom (who is not much of a gardener) used to visit from the US in the summertime.  She'd pull me aside and say, "I see you're not having much success in the garden, you must be just like me...there are no tomatoes on those plants!"  My husband and kids laughed.  Leo, one of our twins, loves tomatoes so much that he ate them all right off the plants...including the green ones.  It's taken years to train him to bring some of them inside and to save them for dinner.

Never too many tomatoes
The first question you may have about harvesting is how to tell when the vegetables are ready. This site provides good guidelines for a variety of vegetables. One rule of thumb is that big is not necessarily best. Beans and peas that sit on the vine until their seeds are large can be woody and dry, and cucumbers and zucchini that grow to large have inedible hard seeds inside. The key is to learn when things are mature, whether it’s by colour (tomatoes, peppers, corn), size (cucumbers, zucchini), hardness (winter squash), of the state of the plant – for example, corn silk turns dark at the top of a ripe cob and potatoes are full-sized when the plant dies back. Taste-testing can also be fine for things like berries or peas or cucumbers!
Some things need to be picked with care so that the plant is not damaged and continues to produce. Apples and beans shouldn’t just be yanked off; the part of the plant that the stem connects to should be secured with your other hand so that it remains with the plant when you pull off the fruit. If you pull off apple spurs, they won’t produce blossoms next year. In contrast, ripe chokecherries are the easiest fruit or vegetable ever to pick – you can strip them off the stems with one pull. Raspberries are another fruit that signals their readiness by coming off the plant with only a gentle pull

Chokecherries from a nearby urban park – yes, I picked them and made syrup

Harvesting may be done once, for plants such as carrots or winter squash, or again and again for herbs and other leafy plants where leaves are encouraged to grow back the more you harvest. Some harvesting must be done almost every day – beans and zucchini can grow so fast on a hot day that they become past their prime from one day to the next. Some require tools such as garden forks or spades for potatoes and larger carrots, knives for cutting cauliflower and cabbages, or scissors for herbs, but many plants can be harvested just using your fingers.
As a child, some of my favourite things to eat while standing in the garden were peas fresh from the pod, and carrots that my dad would pull from the ground and rub on his shirt to remove the dirt. These are memories of the incredible taste of sweet, crisp vegetables, but also of the feel of the warm sun, the sound of insects and birds, and the pleasure of being with my dad and sharing the earth’s gifts with him. Your kids will make wonderful memories as well in the garden with you!

Naomi Beingessner has lived and gardened in the Prairies for most of her life. She has two children, an enthusiastic gardener and an enthusiastic eater. She was a high school teacher and is now back in university studying food sovereignty. Her favourite vegetable is green beans but she finds that the most significant taste difference between store-bought and home-grown is in tomatoes.