Practical Gardening Tips from my newsletter archives
Now that most of the planting of the kitchen garden is done, I’m hoping to settle into a routine of harvesting, watering, and weeding. I also have some pruning (tomatoes), deadheading (flowers), and thinning (squash and Swiss chard) to do. It’s exciting to be harvesting snow peas now after several weeks of cutting greens like lettuce, kale, and amaranth. As I was harvesting snow peas this morning, I thought of several good harvesting tips to share with you.
- Harvest frequently. When an annual crop is producing well, as the snow peas are now, I try to harvest it at least every other day. This helps to keep the harvest going as long as possible. If the fruit stays on the plant long enough to mature fully (pea pods will grow thick), the plant will slow down and then stop producing fruit. Its mission is to reproduce, and that mission is accomplished when it has produced mature seeds. Don’t let that happen!
NOTE: When you’re cutting the stalks of perennial crops such as rhubarb and asparagus, you should stop harvesting after a certain point to avoid weakening the plant.
Look up. Look down. Look through and all around. Look for friends hanging around. Reverse and repeat.
- Harvest thoroughly. This is the tricky part—especially if you are harvesting something green that blends in with the plant leaves, such as snow peas or green beans. I usually circle around the bed at least four times—twice in each direction, looking downward around the top and then crouching down and looking upward through the leaves. Look up, down, and all around the plants. Sometimes a gentle shake of the vines will reveal more pods dangling down. Whenever I spot one, I look for any of its friends that may be hanging nearby because fruit tends to grow in pairs or clusters. I also try to look through the plants that I’m harvesting. When I see a pod on the other side of the bed, I try to reach it from where I am because it won’t be visible when I am on the other side. (With thorny plants like raspberries, you must reach in as carefully as you can to get all the ripe fruit. I never could trust my kids to harvest raspberries well!) Despite all these precautions, I always discover some overripe ones I’d missed the next time I harvest the bed.
Those are the main rules. The rest of my advice boils down to preferences. When I harvest things like peas, beans, tomatoes, and cucumbers, I leave a little bit of the stem and sepal, if there is one, attached to the fruit. (Raspberries are an exception since you must leave the core behind as you gently pull the fruit off.) I was taught that if you leave the sepal behind on the plant, it does not realize that its fruit is gone and it will soon think it has succeeded in producing seeds and so stop fruiting. I have not found any scientific support for this idea, but I continue to follow this practice since it doesn’t hurt anything.
I also prefer to use scissors, pruners, or snips rather than to harvest by hand. I always say there is no such thing as a green thumb, but you can literally get a green thumbnail if you pinch fruit off by hand. You could also get a notched or cracked thumbnail! Beware that pea vines are very easily uprooted, so if you do harvest peas by hand, you should hold the vine with your other hand as you pull the pods off it—don’t just yank them off.
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