Harvesting Tips

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.
Where to Cut

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.

I may earn commissions for purchases made through any Amazon links in this post. See disclosure here.

Garden Walk Adventures

ENJOY — garden style living

We just had a garden walk come to my kitchen garden this weekend. This was the first garden walk sponsored by the Homer Glen Junior Women’s Club, and it was the third time I’ve put my garden on a garden walk. It was a panic to get everything planted, weeded, and looking nice so early in the season, but it was definitely worth it. Thankfully, my best friends helped with the weeding. Garden walk day itself was a blast! I loved talking to everyone about what I’m growing and how I use it.

I was surprised at how many people had not been on a garden walk before. One said she “didn’t even know it was a ‘thing’!” If that’s you, too, I strongly encourage you to go on one this summer. Whether you have a garden of your own or not, it’s fun to walk through private gardens that others have created and tended. Plus, it’s educational and inspirational for those of us who do garden: you get to see what’s growing well in your area and how other gardeners have designed their space. I go on two or three every year, and I take lots of photos to remember them by.

You can learn about garden walks in your area from local garden clubs, from local newspapers (Here’s an example from the Chicago Trib.), and by searching online.

Door to Door Gardens

An ENJOY post from my archives

Garden Walk, Garden Design, Garden Adventure, Travel

I just came back from my first trip to Door County. Although we did not go there for any garden walks or shows, my friend Danelle and I could not help but notice the beautiful gardens we saw as we antiqued our way through several towns.  Everywhere we looked, there were colorful flowers blooming!

Oo, look at THAT! This garden in particular stood out as we drove by, so we made a mental note to stop and look for it on the way back to take some pictures. Despite its many colors and different plants, this roadside garden is very pleasing to the eye. I think the repeated pattern and its undulating shape is the key.  The dark leafy plants keep the bright blooms from getting too busy, and they give the eye a place to rest.

Here you can see how the pattern changed further down the road and away from that gray fence.

Above is a closer shot of one of the sections back by the gray fence. You could play Name That Plant if you like. I see some Persian Shield, some pink zinnias, some Angel Wing begonias—but what are the bright yellow flowers with yellow centers? Danelle said they were Black Eyed Susan, a variety without the familiar black or brown centers. I looked them up, and sure enough there is a variety of rudbeckia hirta called “Irish Eyes” or “Green Eyes”—who knew!

The discovery of this plant variety that I was not aware of before is my favorite takeaway from this unofficial garden walk. I had already been planning to move one of the clumps of Brown Eyed Susan in my back yard bed because it is covering up the pretty rose behind it. I like the brighter yellow of Irish Eyes, too, so I will start using it instead.

Backyard Cottage Garden – 8/27/17

See the two clumps of Black Eyed Susan here in my garden. Can you see the rose behind the one on the right? No. That’s why that rudbeckia must be moved.

Below is part of the pretty garden we found by The Shoreline Restaurant, where we ate dinner. I was pleased to see white daturas, which seed themselves in one or two of my containers, and pansies, which I always try to grow from seed as edible flowers, both blooming very nicely. Now I want to find a good spot in my garden for growing a nice clump of daturas!

Danelle in the garden of The Shoreline Restaurant
Danelle in the garden of The Shoreline Restaurant

There were many other beautiful gardens in Door County. It seemed like pink hydrangeas were blooming everywhere. The towns by the bay, with their cute shops, cottages, and gardens, reminded me of Mackinac Island. And that reminds me that I have yet to sort through the hundreds of pictures I took there last year at the Grand Hotel Garden Show. So many blooms, so little time!

Fight the Blight

GROW — practical gardening tips
Tomato Beds – 7/25/17

Everyone knows that I love tomatoes, but not everyone knows that for a long time I have been dealing with soil borne diseases on my tomato plants. Despite various preventative measures I’ve tried, this year is no different. Early blight has hit several of my tomato plants. After I posted a picture of them and said that I would begin rescue operations when it was drier outside, a friend in Chicago said she had the same problem and asked what to do about it. I’m writing this post to answer that question for her and anyone else who is dealing with early blight and other fungal diseases.

As already noted, I wait until the tomato plants are dry before I do anything. Then the first thing I do is prune away all the yellowed and spotted leaves. These do NOT go into my compost.  The disease moves from the bottom up, so the plants will start to look leggy as the season progresses. With clean pruners, I also remove any non-fruit bearing suckers I see higher up the plant. Removing those unneeded branches will provide better air circulation for the plants, which also helps keep the disease from spreading.

In order to avoid spreading the disease from plant to plant, I spray the pruners with Lysol whenever I move from one plant to the next.  When I first took the master gardener course, I learned that bleach is not instantly effective for sanitizing tools because it requires at least 10 minutes of soaking. Who has time to do that between every plant? Moreover, bleach is corrosive, so it could damage your tools. Someone in the class suggested we do what he had heard rosarians do: spray rubbing alcohol on the pruners. I did that for years until someone in Midwest Fruit Explorers passed around a study that suggested that straight Lysol was more effective, so that is what I have done ever since. You could explore the various options for yourself. I keep the Lysol in a little spray bottle, and I use a paper towel or a clean rag for wiping off the clippers.

Then I spray the plants thoroughly with an organic fungicide to help keep the disease from spreading. Years ago I tried an organic copper fungicide, but I have had better success in recent years at slowing the disease down with an organic biofungicide called Serenade. I buy it at local garden centers and go through a bottle or two every year. After I prune each plant, I spray it from the bottom up. When all the pruning is done, I spray all the plants in the bed from every angle, all around, as best I can.

I have also taken to wearing latex gloves when I perform this whole rescue operation. I can just throw them away when I’m done and not have to wash them before I use them again (as I should with regular garden gloves). I do not recommend doing this job with bare hands–they can get irritated by the sprays and plant oils.

That’s how I fight the blight! At another time, I will talk about the measures I take each year to try to prevent these soil borne diseases.

Hibiscus Hiatus

an EAT post from my archives

I may earn commissions for purchases made through any Amazon links in this post. See disclosure here.

We’re already into late spring, but I’m taking a short hiatus from intensive gardening to share a couple hibiscus recipes.

Spring Garden Salad

I made this special salad entirely from my spring garden. From the cool season beds I’d planted six weeks earlier, I got two kinds of kale, Swiss chard, radishes, green onions, and a little arugula. (The lettuce I planted did not come up. I’m thinking the seeds were probably too old.) I meant to put pea shoots in the salad, too, but I forgot! I also added a some amaranth greens (the purple leaves), Lamb’s Quarters, and dill. All of these seed themselves and come up on their own. Of course, I HAD to add all the edible flowers that were blooming: chives, Bachelor’s Buttons, and Golden Gem Marigolds. I just LOVE edible flowers!

Hibiscus Vinaigrette

 Ingredients for Hibiscus Vinaigrette

You don’t see any hibiscus flowers in the salad, but they’re in there—in the dressing! The above picture shows what I put into the salad dressing: hibiscus vinegar, olive oil, local honey, no-salt seasoning, plus parsley, chives, and rose thyme from my garden. Yes, the rose thyme really smells and tastes like rose petals. It has been thriving in my herb bed for several years now. It is definitely hardier than common thyme, and it even seems to be hardier than lemon thyme, too.

I didn’t really measure out the ingredients. You can see how much oil and vinegar I put into the Bullet Blender cup—about 1/4 cup hibiscus vinegar and 1/3 cup olive oil. I added 2-3 teaspoons of honey and blended it. Then I added 1 teaspoon of no-salt seasoning, and I used kitchen scissors to cut the herbs you see into the cup before blending it again for a little bit. If I were planning to keep this dressing to use later, I would also add 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard to help keep it emulsified.

Jamaica (Hibiscus) Punch

As you may have noticed, I used a store bought hibiscus vinegar in my vinaigrette. Alas, I have not grown the kind of hibiscus best for culinary use: Hibiscus sabdariffaFortunately, dried hibiscus flowers are readily available in various ethnic markets and online (but not always certified organic, alas). This fact makes it easy serve edible flowers year round, whether you grow any or not.

Here’s a sampling of dried hibiscus available at a local supermarket. I included a box of Red Zinger because hibiscus is the main ingredient in that tea blend, and it has rosehips, too. You may have already had some edible flower tea without knowing it!

Different countries give this flower different names, including Jamaica and Rosa de Jamaica. Actually it is the calyxes, not the flowers, that are used. I have taken to combining hibiscus tea with Jamaican style ginger beer to make a red punch drink that I like to call Jamaica Punch. Ginger beer, like root beer and ginger ale, is non-alcoholic (except for a few varieties—check the label), and it has much more flavor than ginger ale, which usually doesn’t even have ginger in it.

 Hibiscus Vinegar, Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup, Candied Hibiscus

Other hibiscus products are a little harder to find, but they’re out there. The hibiscus flowers in syrup are a great way to make any drink, including my Jamaica Punch, extra special. Put a few drops of the syrup and a flower in the bottom of a pretty goblet or champagne flute, and then add hibiscus tea and ginger beer, or sparkling water or champagne—anything! I guarantee you will impress your guests and make them feel special.