There comes a time, usually about mid-August (here in upstate NY), when the garden makes a happy shift. The hardworking laborer/gardener breathes a sigh of relief, and beauty becomes bountiful. The time that I am referring to is when the garden becomes less WORK-related (see my last blog, “In the Weeds” talking about weed control) and more bounty-focused. When the growing plants finally reach a large enough stage that they shadow out the light from wishful weeds, the plants themselves actually act as partial weed-control. Plus, when you go out to view what needs to be taken care of, and you find “one million” green beans that REALLY need to be plucked – that will beg for your attention much more than a few silly stray weeds. When things are lush and vibrant, and hitting their peak – now that is my favorite time. To see that what began as a tiny little seed, or small seedling, now becoming full-grown and heavy with produce…I do a little jig…
For a new gardener, perhaps one question is: How do I know when something is “ready”? This question is very important, especially for certain things, such as ripening fruits. Sometimes a fruit can be underdone one day, the next day pure perfection, and the following day, overdone. Strawberries are like this – I call them “persnickity” (which probably makes me sound like I am 80 years old, but oh well.) As in, how can something be so demanding and picky that if we miss this peak time, then the “ship has sailed” so to speak? You will learn by trial and error. And by my blog. So here is a brief rundown:
1. Things that will fall off the vine (or come off with a gentle tug) – and are therefore READY: Cantaloupe, tomatoes, corn
2. Things that look like you buy in the store, therefore PICK: green beans (the bigger they get the tougher they are), snap peas, salad greens (*see below), cucumbers, green bell peppers, Swiss chard, pumpkins, butternut squash, eggplant, celery, herbs, jalepenos
3. Things that are hard to determine: Watermelon (I have many times taken a guess and been sadly wrong – underdone = white interior and zero flavor. Overdone is worse, and can be mushy or rotten inside) . Potatoes and onions (underground – harvest when the top growth dies off). Radishes, carrots, and beets – also underground – pull when the top is “crowning” out of the dirt. Or follow the seed packet for growing length.giant beet harvest
**salad and many herbs are wonderful in that they regenerate! How cool is that? When you pick, choose the outermost, developed leaves, and the internal leaves will then continue to grow. If you break or cut off the whole head of lettuce, however, all bets are off. Salad is wonderful in that is can be replanted from seed throughout the season and is fairly tolerant of cooler temps – I usually plant my last round mid-August, give it 40-60 days to grow. Basil – harvest when the group of 4 leaves looks lush and full – you will see a difference if it “goes too far” in that the leaves get tough and wrinkled. This will taste bitter. Cut off the whole grouping, not just plucking individual leaves. This will encourage flourishing and regeneration of stalks in a 2-1 ratio. Right now, my basil plants are probably 3 feet tall and very full, lush, like bushes! All from proper cutting techniques.
I hope all my readers enjoy and really savor the peak of the season – the weather will shift soon enough! This time of joy and bounty is almost like a high, if you allow yourself to be uplifted, and open your eyes, ears, nose…. If you are not yet a home gardener, then I implore you to go to a farmer’s market, buy basil, and shove your nose into it. Go to a U-pick farm, and taste something literally off the vine – there is nothing more fresh, delectable, or more packed with nutrients than produce that has just been picked. When you feed your body this way, your soul will sing and you will feel nourished from the inside out. Go to a park or public garden – we are blessed with many in this region, and wander around a floral or landscape display – look especially closely into the intricate and beautiful nature of the flower petal arrangement, and the delicacy of the pollen. Take it all in, and you will be fulfilled.