Monday, July 29, 2013

When to Harvest Vegetables in a Tough Gardening Year

One of the most wonderful aspects of growing food in your own yard is that you and your family get to eat vegetables (and fruits!) at the peak of their flavor.

UGA has a publication about when that flavor peak occurs for many of the garden crops; it's called (not too surprisingly) When to Harvest Vegetables.For those who are new to gardening, the information about how to tell by look, feel, and smell that it's time to harvest the veggies is very useful. Over time, though, most gardeners begin to develop their own ideas about when the Absolute Peak of flavor is.

One of my most favorite gardeners, Gene Logsden, a.k.a "The Contrary Farmer," has his own ideas about when to harvest. In his recent blog post "Defining Freshness," he wrote:
"With both corn and peas, freshness has another connotation. There is a peak time for flavor, at least for me, depending on how far along in development the vegetable is when picked. If allowed to mature too much, goodbye subtle nuances. Peas have to be picked when they have not yet filled the pod tightly, corn when the kernels are still just a tad on the green “pimply” side as we say."
When all goes well, we go with our own, inner taste guides. When all does not go well, we may be lucky to have a harvest to bring in at all!

For example, many gardeners grow tomatoes so they can experience the amazing flavor of truly vine-ripened tomatoes. This year, I am unlikely to have that experience. If the plant hasn't been attacked by roving bands of fungal spores, then a rogue chipmunk has swarmed up the stems and bitten each fruit before it can ripen fully, or an impatient bird has decided to puncture the side of each one for a taste of the (not fully ripened) insides.

This one should have been picked sooner, before the chipmunk found it.
I have taken to bringing in the fruits as they just begin to blush, not waiting for the approach of ripeness. In some cases, this drastic measure is meant to save the tomatoes from critter damage; in others, it was because the plant looked unhealthy enough that it needed to be pulled up.

Right now, there are almost ten pounds of tomatoes in various stages of ripening in my kitchen. None of these will have "vine-ripened" flavor, but they still will be home grown!

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